Are parents liable for children’s bullying behaviour?
Adults are accountable to protect children from bullying behaviour and this accountability includes civil liability for both educators and parents.
Back to school is just around the corner. Bullying at school including cyber bullying is something we don't like to think about our children being involved in and this is whether they are the ones receiving it or the ones dishing it out. This is an issue however which we must concern ourselves with as it is our business.
I was reading an interesting book written by a woman who had been bullied as an adolescent. She makes the interesting observation that whether you are the bully or the one being bullied it's often a matter of circumstance. Individuals involved in egging on a bully tend to minimize their role in the activity. Victims of a bully ultimately blame the "friends" of the bully who were complicit or provided active encouragement to the bully just as much as they blame the actual bully and so much of this has to do with peers and choices made about who is popular and by definition who is not popular. These popularity tests often will not withstand the test of time i.e. Meaning many of the bullies grow up to be big losers and many of the ‘losers’ in school end up being the successful adults.
So one of the big things that must change is the willingness of not only the bully's victims but also the willingness of everyone else around to speak out against bullying. This requires a cultural shift which will obviously include an educational component. No longer does the law allow adults to turn a blind eye towards bullying behaviour.
We must not forget that adults are accountable to children to protect them from bullying behaviour and the reality is that this accountability includes civil liability not only for educators but also for parents who may find themselves liable for the bullying behaviour of minor children even if this behaviour occurs while they are in the care and control of the school. It is not an uncommon occurrence for school boards to be named as defendants in addition to parents of the offenders in a civil action. Parents then inevitably are faced with the unpleasant task of notifying their home insurer of a potential civil claim being brought against them due to the actions of their child. If criminal proceedings are involved the home insurer may not respond to the claim.
There is a high duty imposed on schools to ensure that proper protocols are in place not only to respond to bullying behaviour but also to ensure there is an appropriate level of supervision in place to ensure that opportunities for bullying behaviour are kept to a minimum. How to ensure children are adequately protected from bullying is a very complicated issue when it is considered in the context of a busy school environment and further complicated if it is something that isn't readily talked about by any of the children involved.
The days are over when a bully can expect to avoid civil and/or criminal accountability for their behaviour and cyber bullying is no exception. Adults have a key role to play by ensuring that their children know they will never turn a blind eye to bullying and to promote healthy discussion around this topic. Even children who are too young to be held criminally or civilly accountable for their behaviour must be taught from any early age that certain behaviour is unacceptable.
Lisa Morell Kelly,
Direct line 519-497-7421