Bullying has always been a problem in schools, but with the increased usage of social media, the issue is no longer left at the school gate. One town in Wisconsin is trialling an extreme new measure to tackle the problem; they have begun fining parents of children who are proven to be bullying.
The town of Shawano has put together the idea after close consultation between the local school boards and police. It is likely to be monitored closely by other towns and cities across America to see how effective it is.
If any child is found to be bullying, they will be reported to the parents; they will then be given 90 days to eradicate the behavior. If after 90 days the bullying has continued the police will be notified and impose a $366 fine on the parents. If there is a further offence within a year of the fine, there will be an additional fine of $681. The combined total for three instances of bullying from one child in a year could, therefore, result in a $1047 fine! Although the money is high, those in favor of the move see it as a necessary step to stopping bullying in schools.
The subject of bullying is a particularly sensitive issue in Wisconsin after the shooting that occurred at Antigo high school prom in April. The shooter, Jakob Wagner who died after opening fire at the dance, is believed to have been subject to years of bullying which eventually led to a breakdown in his mental health and a desire to take revenge on the perpetrators.
Although the shooting brought an immediacy to the issue, it is by no means a new problem or local issue. Studies show that approximately 25% of children are bullied at some point during their time in the education system and can be as much as nine times more likely to commit suicide than their counterparts. Additionally, as much as 7% of people under the age of 18 are likely to attempt suicide as a result of consistent bullying.
The chief of police in Shawano, Mark Kohl, sees the policy as a necessity in the light of such statistics. ‘This isn’t generated towards the kids being kids, some playground banter. This is the person that is meticulously using social media or saying things that are vulgar in an attempt to hurt, discredit, and really demean a person.’
The statistics around bullying are evidence of just how damaging and dangerous it can be and as the issue of cyberbullying increases, the likelihood is we will see more of these aggressive prevention measures.
One serious point of contention amongst the opposition of the measure is that many children who do bully are from unstable and often financially troubled homes. The fine could further decrease the value of life for the child in question, which could, in fact, increase both the likelihood and severity of their bullying.
Dr. Steven Meyers, a leading clinical psychologist, believes that addressing the issue of bullying with fines could cause serious problems, as they haven’t been studied conclusively. He believes, instead, that money should instead be spent on preventive methods. ‘Ordinances that fine parents for children’s bullying haven’t been carefully studied,” said Dr. Meyers. ‘Programs that are effective in curbing bullying are much more comprehensive and ideally are preventative.”
Despite the lack of research, the plan to fine parents will be coming into effect in Shawano. Whether just finingp the parents of bullies works better than trying to understand the behaviour is a debate that will rage on. However, educators across the world will have half an eye on a town of just 9,000 people in Wisconsin to see if they’ve found an answer.