Remember your school days? Bullying was an unpleasant fact of life on the playground, but good teachers and administrators worked hard to keep it in check, to prevent escalation, and to keep parents in the loop so they could (hopefully) reinforce the anti-bullying lessons at home.
Back then, bullies usually lost track of their prey after school, providing a healthy time out for the victims and distractions for the bullies. While situations could get out of control, once parents and teachers put bullies on notice, they at least knew they were being monitored and watched.
In the Internet age, bullying has ramped up significantly and morphed into what’s called “cyberbullying.” This can take on many forms, including harassment by text or over social networks; posting derogatory and/or false information about people; spreading rumors; even making public personal, revealing information and pictures that were intended to be kept private.
Surveys of middle and high school students show that 28% of students have been the victim of cyberbullying, which 16% admit to engaging in cyberbullying.
We suspect that in reality that 16% figure is much higher. Cyberbullying is relatively easy to engage in, it can be very subtle, and it can even be done anonymously. Even when your children are not instigating bullying, they may be a party to it by forwarding messages created by others, making them de facto bullies, too.
You may not see your child as the classic, lunch money shakedown artist kind of bully, but would they give in to the temptation and ease of engaging in cyberbullying, away from the glare of teacher and parental eyes?
Besides curbing antisocial behavior, parents of budding cyberbullies will want to squelch these tendencies before it costs them financially.
More jurisdictions are enacting laws that hold parents responsible for children’s bad behavior. In an extreme case, where cyberbullying leads to a devastating tragedy like suicide, it could also lead to a serious financial crisis.
State laws vary, but generally parents can be held accountable for their children’s actions, and not just financially, but criminally as well. In California, parents who fail to “exercise reasonable care, supervision, protection, and control” over their children face consequences that include jail time.
MAKE THE MESSAGE HEARD
On the financial side, you may be sued as if you were doing the bullying yourself, especially if you knew about it and did nothing, or worse, made light of it or in any other way tacitly encouraged the behavior.
While this may or may not be covered under your homeowner’s liability policy, you can still protect yourself. Whether for cyberbullying, auto accidents, or other teenage perils, an umbrella policy, as we wrote about recently (see Parents: Umbrellas are not just for rainy days), will help keep you covered in the event of an expensive lawsuit or judgement against you.
But it should never get to that. While we should laud state legislatures for enacting tougher cyberbullying statutes that put heavy burdens on public school administrators and teachers, the anti-bullying message has to be heard at home as well.
Children and teenagers must be made to understand how inappropriate this behavior is, even as something as “innocent” as forwarding a message that makes fun of someone else. The consequences could be dire for everyone.
Material posted on this website is for informational purposes only and does not constitute a legal opinion or medical advice. Contact your legal representative or medical professional for information specific to your legal or medical needs.