Bullying has made its way into the national spotlight in recent years thanks to sobering statistics and the serious risks posed when kids gang up on kids. About one quarter of students in the United States say they are bullied each school year, the majority of students never report bullying. Students can be bullied for any reason, but most are targeted due to their race, looks or body shape, and students who experience bullying are at a heightened risk of sleep difficulties, academic problems, depression and anxiety. The stakes get even higher, considering that over 6,000 deaths a year for people between the ages of 15 and 24 are attributed to bullying-related suicides.
The uptick in bullying and information on the subject has launched a national conversation that includes both school districts trying everything they can to prevent it and adults who maintain that bullying is simply a natural part of being a kid. Dozens of solutions have been proposed around the country, but a Wisconsin town’s police department has developed one of the most controversial approaches.
An ordinance passed by Shawano’s city council allows the police department to intervene when aggressive harassment takes place involving minors under the age of 18, and it isn’t limited to just in-school bullying. The ordinance also covers cyberbullying on Facebook and other forms of social media, bus rides and other occasions when bullying may occur.
While many police departments around the country swear to intervene in the event of bullying, the department in Shawano takes it a step further. After the first incident, parents of the bully will receive a warning, but they will receive a $366 fine if the child’s behaviors don’t change within 90 days. The cost for repeat offenders is steep, reaching nearly $700 per incident.
Parents in the community and elsewhere largely agree that bullying must be stopped, but the new ordinance is the subject of great controversy. Critics are quick to contend that there is a different between harassment and playful banter and that children often harmlessly tease one another.
Police Chief Mark Kohl recognizes this difference and has maintained the the ordinance was not created to punish kids for being kids and participating in typical playground banter. Instead, Kohl says the ordinance will target kids who bully specifically to hurt others or use social media to intimidate or terrorize other kids.