Arrests in Florida tween bullying case raise issue of parental responsibility

Arrests in Florida tween bullying case raise issue of parental responsibility
Rebecca Sedwick is pictured in this undated handout photo courtesy of Polk County Sheriff's Office in Florida.

The tragic story of a 12 year-old Rebecca Sedwick committing suicide in Florida and the subsequent felony charges the 12 year-old and 14 year-old girls who bullied her has the attention of tween parents and the whole country.

The younger girl had been close friends with Rebecca but the 14 year-old turned the friend against Rebecca over her previous relationship with a boy. The bullies said heinous things to Rebecca. They often suggested to Rebecca that she kill herself and sometimes suggested methods, including drinking bleach or jumping off a building.

Rebecca jumped to her death last month at an abandoned cement plant.

The two girls arrested were not the only people tormenting Rebecca, although authorities did identify them as the "primary harassers." As many as 15 other girls bullied her in the past year as well.

This past Saturday, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said officers arrested them after the 14-year-old girl involved, after she posted on Facebook that she had bullied Rebecca. She wrote, "Yes ik [I know] I bullied REBECCA nd she killed her self but IDGAF [I don't give a f***]."

After seeing the message that he calls "despicable" "We decided that we can't leave her out there. Who else is she going to torment, who else is she going to harass?" Judd said.

But Judd didn't stop with the girls. "If we can find any charges we can bring against their parents, we will," he said. He noted that after the older girl was interviewed by police, her parents continued to allow her access to social networks.

"I’m aggravated that the parents are not doing what parents should do: after she is questioned and involved in this, why does she even have a device?” Sheriff Judd said. “Parents, who instead of taking that device and smashing it into a thousand pieces in front of that child, say her account was hacked.”

What Sheriff Judd went on to say is what has really resonated with me: "Watch what your children do online. Pay attention. Quit being their best friend and be their best parent. That’s important.”

The 14 year-old's father told the Associated Press, "“My daughter’s a good girl and I’m 100 percent sure that whatever they’re saying about my daughter is not true." The father of the 12 year-old said, ""I feel horrible about the whole situation. It's my fault, maybe that I don't know more about that kind of stuff. I wish I did."

The sheriff noted that the bullies used Kik and Ask.fm, sites that parents find difficult to monitor. He was waiting for information from those sites before bringing charges but decided that the girl's Facebook post meant he could wait no longer.

“As a child, I can remember sticks and stones can break your bones but words will never hurt you,” the sheriff said. “Today, words stick because they are printed and they are there forever.”

On the Today Show, he said, “But if we can find a contributing to the … delinquency of a child we certainly would bring that charge, because I can tell you, the parents are in total denial,” Judd said. “They don’t think there’s a problem here, and that is the problem.…They even let her have her Facebook access after she bullied this child and after they knew it.”

Should parents of bullies be held legally responsible for their children's behavior?

It doesn't sound like there's an obvious law in Florida under which charges could be brought. I've debated whether the parents are criminals.

I don't know.

I do not know what her parents knew, or when, or what they did to try to address the situation with their child. I don't know any details about this case other than what's been reported, and we all know that not all facts make it to the media.

I do know that arresting the parents will not bring Rebecca back, and it will not make things okay for her grieving family.

I do know that there are awful parents out there, and there are awful kids, and they don't necessarily go together. I do know that children should be taught to value life. The thought of a child who refuses to care about the life of a peer just makes me want to curl up in a ball and sob.

I do know that parents need to act like parents. Parenting means being involved, monitoring online activity, talking with them, knowing where they are and who they are with, setting rules for them, punishing them when they break those rules and working your butt off to ensure that they are good, kind people.

I do know that parents can learn about the internet websites their tweens and teens visit, and they can monitor their kid's online behavior.

I do  know that parents can address the issue of tween bullying and help their kids know what to do when they see another child being bullied or being treated meanly by peers, such as acting as a witness, reporting the incident and not just ignoring it.

I do know that parents can take steps to keep their kids safe online, including the 13 steps detailed in this post by Kortney Peagram of Bulldog Solutions. It includes everything from being friends with your child on Facebook to establish rules for online behavior and consequences when those rules are broken, among other great suggestions.

I do know that parents can about bullying with their kids, ask if they see or experience that behavior themselves and to stress the importance of discussing it with an adult. I realize that was not enough in Rebecca's case, but it's better than not knowing at all.

And parents can also talk about uplifting stories of tweens and teens being kind and supportive and doing amazing things. You can find some amazing tweens here.

What do you think? Should the parents of tween or teen bullies be arrested and held responsible for their child's conduct?

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Filed under: Parenting

Tags: bullying

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