North Tonawanda, New York: Town To Punish Parents For Kids’ Bullying — Is This The Right Approach? [Opinion]

North Tonowanda New York is punishing parents for their kids' bullying

Remember when you were in elementary school and the teacher punished the entire class because of that one kid who wouldn’t stop acting up? Now imagine that same injustice thrust upon you as an adult, only you’re being punished not for another adult’s behavior, but for your own child’s.

That’s the approach one upstate New York town is attempting to take in order to prevent bullying.

As WIVB-TV (Buffalo) reports, North Tonawanda, New York, passed a law last week punishing parents whose children are bullies with anything ranging from a $250 fine or up to 15 days in jail.

They’re not kidding, says North Tonawanda Mayor Art Pappas.

“We want the message out there that we’re serious about this. We don’t want anyone to be afraid to be in our city, or walk the streets or go to school.”

Victoria Crago, whose son was a victim of bullying, got the ball rolling on the new city ordinance. In June, her son was attacked by one of his classmates — off school grounds, and off school time. Talking with other parents at North Tonawanda Middle School, she realized that bullying was a severe problem.

Capt. Karen Smith of the North Tonawanda Police Department tells the Buffalo News that it’s one group of kids who are responsible for the bulk of the bullying in the town.

“This last spring and summer was the worst I had seen in the 19 years I’ve been there, with this core group of about five juvenile males who were getting in trouble on a real regular basis.”

One bully allegedly sucker-punched his victim, in front of the victim’s mother, in broad daylight and in plain view of anybody and everybody, in front of the town’s Dollar General.

What’s worse, the perpetrators were getting away with it.

“I think that these teens have figured out that they can get away with this which is why they’re repeat offenders. But if there’s a tougher law in place it may give them pause.”

In the case of the Dollar General incident, the teenager most certainly got away with it; though he was punished in juvenile courts, he was back out on the street in no time, and back to his bullying ways.

Apparently feeling their hands were tied, North Tonawanda took a cue from a Wisconsin town — Monona — and enacted a law punishing parents for their kids’ misdeeds.

So did Monona’s law work? Apparently so, says Police Chief Walter J. Ostrenga. Like North Tonawanda, Monona’s bullying problem was limited to a small group of kids.

“We wrote about three warning letters, two to parents of two kids in the same family. They eventually moved.”

And while Monona’s law appears to have worked on a practical level, on a philosophical level, it’s garbage, says criminal law professor Charles P. Ewing.

“I would have serious doubts about whether you could impose criminal liability on a parent for the acts of a child.”

Ewing thinks a far more effective approach is for the parents of a bullying victim to sue the child’s bullies in court. That approach puts civil penalties on the parents of bullies, rather than criminal penalties, bypassing thorny constitutional issues.

North Tonawanda Mayor Art Pappas, however, believes that just having the law on the books will be enough to discourage any further bullying.

“I think it’s going to get a message out there. That certain parents who haven’t now have to take some responsibility for their children.”

Do you believe parents of bullies should be held criminally responsible for the actions of their children? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

[Featured Image by Darrin+Klimek/Thinkstock]