Creative Commons/Twentyfour Students

Creative Commons/Twentyfour Students

The GEM Debate: Should Children/Parents Pay Fines For Bullying? (POLL)

The Carson (California) City Council is set to do a final vote on May 20 on an ordinance that would target anyone from kindergarten to age 25 who bullies with no legitimate purpose. If charged, a person could face misdemeanor charges.

“First-time offenders could be ticketed for an infraction and fined $100. A second infraction would cost $200, and a third-time offense could bring a criminal misdemeanor charge.

“’If a child is bullying someone, and a parent has to pay a $100 fine as a result of that, a responsible parent will realize their child needs some help,’” said Councilman Mike Gipson, who introduced the ordinance and is spearheading a campaign to make Carson bully-free.

“Adults who bully would be charged with either an infraction or a misdemeanor, which could come with jail time.

The ordinance would also cover forms of cyber-bullying in Carson.

Related: What Matters Most: Parenting A Bully; Encouragement For The Weary Mom

Though I understand the intent of such a law, it has the potential to backfire in its implementation. First, there is the language of the law: anyone who makes another person feel “terrorized, frightened, intimidated, threatened, harassed or molested with no legitimate purpose” could be subject to punishment. What is the definition of terror or intimidation? Will we punish acts that are in the gray area of bullying? What are the specific actions that fall under bullying? Is there ever a legitimate purpose of bullying? Who gets to define that and how would it be applied fairly?

Second, this law targets anyone from kindergarten to age 25. Why stop at 25? There are bullies everywhere. I haven’t had many jobs, but I’ve never had one that didn’t have a resident bully, including my last principal. Of course, our names for these kinds of people weren’t as nice as bully. My point is that 25 seems a rather arbitrary age to make people face punishment. How do adults seek recourse for their bully?

I have more thoughts, but for the sake of keeping this relatively short this is my last one: How does one enforce this law? The article states, “It’s unclear how the Sheriff’s Department would enforce the law, since infractions and misdemeanors rarely are doled out unless the crime is witnessed by a law enforcement officer.” School is the place where much of bullying occurs. If officers aren’t in schools looking for bullying, then what? Will they depend on schools to report problems to them or does it always have to happen within the officer’s view?

Do you see where I’m going with these questions? Look, I’m against bullying in all its forms. I’ve seen how it makes vulnerable children feel deeply unhappy. There are parents who struggle with a child who is the bully. Bullying is an intractable problem that will never go away. But I’ve said before and I’ll say again: we cannot legislate the human heart. We can write laws and find ways to enforce them, but we’ll never control how people feel. The heart is what has to change if bullying—or any negative behavior—is to stop.

Related: Our Story Begins: When Bullying Hits Home

What do you think? Could fining children and parents do some good? Take the poll and share your thoughts below.

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