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New law could cause jail time for parents of bullies

How do we stop bullying? It’s a question parents and educators wrestle with every day, and a small town in New York dealing with its own bullying epidemic with a rather extreme solution: Jail time—for the parents, not the kids.

While the intention behind the parent-punishing law may be to help families and children, the result will likely be anything but helpful.

The new law took effect in North Tonawanda, New York, after series of escalating incidents involving a group of middle school boys that led to one boy getting attacked outside a Dollar General, The Buffalo News reports.

Fed up and out of penalties for the middle schoolers, local authorities decided to adopt the new anti-bullying strategy that could put parents behind bars. Now, parents of children who are caught bullying (or breaking other city ordinances like curfew) could be fined $250 and sentenced to 15 days in jail.

The law is intended to incentivize parents to exercise more control of their children, says Nicholas B. Robinson, the assistant city attorney who wrote the new law.

Other city and school officials have been vocal in their support, but critics say it won’t actually work to stop bullying.

As Dr. Jamie Wells notes in a blog post for the The American Council on Science and Health there should be concerns about how this law could impact single-parent households: What happens to a family when mom loses her job due to a two-week stint in jail for her child’s crime?

Law experts also question the legality, constitutionality and practicality of the law. But, if jailing parents is bad idea, are there any better suggestions? North Tonawanda and other communities may want to look toward research-based solutions to bullying.

According to research, intervention programs that have an ultimate objective with ongoing goals have proven effective; think of something that provides productive after-school programing for at-risk middle schoolers versus a program that aims to “get control of those bad kids.”

These kinds of multifaceted approaches to targeting bullying work better than singular solutions. And positive, community-centered programs garner stronger support from parents and teachers, which can help lead to higher rates of student participation.

Programs like these also help all kids—with serious power to change lives for the better. And while the lawmakers’ aims in North Tonawanda are admirable, the life-improving benefits found in other anti-bullying programs likely can’t be expected when a parent has to go to jail or fork over half a paycheck to cover a fine.

Heather Marcoux is the News Editor for Motherly and mom to one little boy. A former television journalist, Heather lives in Canada with her husband, son and a foursome of adorable pets.

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