Is Your Child a Bully?
Bullying is a national epidemic (PDF) affecting children, parents and educators alike, but what if it is your child acting as the bully? In addition to watching for warning signs that their child is being bullied, parents must also keep an eye on telltale indications that their child is bullying others by causing physical or emotional harm. Failing to stop bullying by a child can lead to increasingly severe repercussions for the bully as he or she gets older, and some states even hold parents liable for their children’s bullying behavior.
Signs of Bullying
Parents are rarely in a position to witness bullying firsthand. However, child psychologists and school officials have identified certain warning signs that may signal to parents that their child is engaged in bullying.
The most obvious telltale sign is when a child has recurrent behavioral problems both in and out of school. Children who act out at home or during extracurricular activities likely also act out in a school setting. Aggression toward siblings at home can also indicate that a child might externalize that same aggression toward fellow students at school.
Another indication of bullying is a child’s obsession with popularity or social standing. A child preoccupied with his or her social status at school is often more likely to give in to peer pressure and engage in bullying of others. A child’s friends can also indicate a likelihood of participating in bullying if those friends regularly exhibit aggressive behavior or are similarly preoccupied with social standings.
Finally, unexplained money or property turning up in your child’s possession might indicate bullying. Like the television bully who demands other children’s lunch money, real-life bullies often demonstrate their feelings of superiority by taking other children’s money or belongings.
State Law Definitions of Bullying
State laws can also dictate whether a child is considered a bully. Some parents might think their children only participate in seemingly harmless schoolyard taunting, but state laws may actually define this behavior as bullying and authorize schools to take disciplinary action.
Most state laws on bullying list specific types of behavior that constitute bullying. These behaviors can range from verbal harassment and stalking to physical violence and public humiliation. Some states also include the motive behind the behavior as another factor indicating bullying. For example, Florida’s anti-bullying law includes the “intent to demean, dehumanize, embarrass, or cause physical harm” as part of one of its definitions of bullying.
In addition to identifying specific behavior that counts as bullying, a state definition of bullying may also consider whether the behavior was done based on the real or perceived characteristics of the victim. These characteristics identified in state laws can range from race and religion to socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, and physical appearance.
Also, cyberbullying -- in which mobile and web-based technologies are used to harass or intimidate -- can greatly magnify the impact of such abuse.
Parental Liability for Bullying
Children can be held responsible for their actions at school through the school discipline process, but in some states, parents may also be held liable for their children’s bullying behavior. Most states have a general law requiring parents to properly supervise their children. When parents fail to stop bullying behavior, some parents are fined or sometimes even held criminally liable under these negligent supervision laws. City ordinances and school board regulations may also provide authorities with the power to hold parents liable. In 2013, the Wisconsin town of Monona passed a city ordinance allowing the police to write tickets and fine parents up to $177 if their children participate in bullying.
In some states, the victims of bullying may be able to sue the parents of bullies in civil court. Rather than authorities issuing a fine based on a state or local law, the victims in these cases bring their own lawsuit for personal injury against the parents who failed to stop their children from bullying.