It almost sounds like a fake news story.
In Monona, Wisconsin, parents can now be ticketed by police and fined in municipal court if their children repeatedly bully others.
Some bullying experts are praising the move.
“Today’s bullying is literally a matter of life and death,” Steve Siebold, author of Sex, Politics and Religion: How Delusional Thinking is Destroying America, told TakePart. “I applaud the city of Monona, Wisconsin, for taking such an extreme measure. Many parents still brush off bullying as a natural part of growing up, and it’s about time the government starts cracking down on those moms and dads who fail to recognize just how serious bullying in the 21st century has become.”
The Monona City Council passed a broad anti-bullying ordinance in May. City officials told the Wisconsin State Journal that no specific incident led to the decision.
“Sometimes you’ll knock on someone’s door and they won’t want to talk to you—their kids are perfect, they could never do anything wrong,” Monona Police Chief Wally Ostrenga told the newspaper. “This is for those times when we get the door slammed in our faces.”
Parents will have to pay a $144 fine for a first violation. If parents have subsequent violations in the same year, they will be fined $177 for each violation.
Before being ticketed, however, “a parent or guardian must be informed in writing by an officer of a separate violation of bullying by the same minor within the prior 90 days,” according to the Wisconsin State Journal.
Despite major bullying initiatives at the federal, state, and local levels, as well as celebrity support, the problem continues to plague children in neighborhoods and school districts around the country.
Federal investigators have launched a probe into bullying in the East Aurora school district near Chicago after two bullying incident complaints were filed with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.
Massachusetts lawmakers are pondering changes to toughen up that state's landmark anti-bullying law including requiring school districts to collect data on bullying incidents and report the information to the state.
In Charleston, West Virginia, parents recently formed an anti-bullying group that meets monthly “to tackle bullying.”
Kate Walton, a former public school teacher who has developed very effective anti-bullying strategies for schools, often speaks to schools and universities on the topic of “The Power of Human Kindness.” A mother of two, Walton is also the author of Cracked and Empty, two young adult novels about bullying.
She told TakePart that while imposing fines on bullies’ parents seems extreme, she appreciates the intent.
“In truth, the buck does stop with parents,” she said. “Not teaching your child how to be empathetic and compassionate is a parenting failure. Teaching children to be productive members of society is part of every parent’s job. And being a productive society member includes treating fellow human beings with dignity and respect. Unfortunately, that doesn’t come naturally for many children.”
But, she says, a lot more needs to be done than sanctioning parents in court.
“Parents must explicitly teach their children to think of others, to do the right thing, to be kind and compassionate,” she said. “This is by no means an easy task, but it is absolutely crucial. When parents seize the teachable moments by having purposeful and crafted conversations to acknowledge and discuss injustice, racism, hatred…jerk behavior and show their children what compassion looks and sounds like every chance you get, society wins.”
Ezechiel “Zeke” Bambolo, Jr., an author and speaker, echoed that sentiment, but added that he thinks the Wisconsin idea is wrong.
“We do not fine parents for their child’s theft, assault, murder, and other egregious crimes. So why do we want to fine them for bullying? That is a terribly senseless and contradicting approach.”
Bambolo noted that in the past, city governments and the police were not asked to step in to address how children should address their peers.
“Instead with violent media and other damaging societal trends which destroy the interrelations of a healthy family, we have taught our children to shoot up schools and their peers,” he said. “Yet rather than address the unhealthy behavior and call it what it truly is so that parents and children will properly learn it is wrong, we instead choose to cover it with a trendy term called ‘bullying’ and add fines to assert and confirm our faulty actions.”