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Should Parents Be Held Accountable for Their Kids' Bullying?

The Short of It

In a court case in New Jersey, a victim blames the school district for years of bullying he suffered. But the district is now saying the bullies' parents should share some of the responsibility.

The Lowdown

A former student says he suffered years of bullying from other kids in two different Hunterdon County, N.J., school districts. Incidents included being hit with a kickball in the groin, having pasta thrown at him at lunch and having his pants pulled down by a classmate. The boy was called gay slurs by classmates and says he became anorexic due to the emotional trauma.

Last year, the student sued the school districts, saying they failed to stop the bullying, even though he and his mother filed numerous complaints over the years. But the district says they shouldn't carry the blame and may file a suit against 13 students and their parents.

"Once a kid goes to school that's it, mom and dad are off the hook?" asked Robert Gold, a lawyer representing the Hunterdon Central Regional School District in the case. "The school is supposed to take care of them in every respect?"

"It's incumbent on the parents to instruct their children," Gold said. "This can send a huge message to parents and kids over age 7 to act appropriately."

However, the student himself isn't suing the bully's parents—only the district. The judge will make her ruling in a few weeks; she heard oral arguments from all parties on Wednesday.

The Upshot

It can't be denied that parents could make their kids more likely to be bullies if they don't teach them that bullying is wrong, don't model how it is to treat others respectfully or neglect or abuse their children. But sometimes kids do things even though their parents have told them not to. I think it will be hard for the district to prove in court that the parents are at fault for the bullying if it decides to sue.

To me, this case is a reminder that it takes a village—school, parents, relatives and friends—everyone needs to work together to protect our children from getting bullied and from becoming bullies, too.

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