We recently ran this story about a boy who was bullied at a top Cape Town school, whose mom felt the school wasn't doing enough to protect her son. Immediately we got responses from parents who said the bullies' parents should be held accountable too. In fact, in the poll we ran, 81% of respondents felt that parents should outright shoulder the blame, whereas 19% felt it depended on the situation.
It didn't stop there and we had an avalanche of responses, showing that bullying is endemic and remains a huge problem. Here are some of the responses:
"My child was the bully"
"I believe parents have to be held responsible if the whole problem starts from home, but we need to look into a much more broader ways of helping out these young people to grow up respecting others.
"If we work together, parents and teachers, I can tell you now we can easily eradicate this disease. My son has been involved in bullying other kids at school and I didn’t waste time, I stood up as a parent and engaged with the teachers. I put my foot down and I continue to monitor him all the time. Bullying is in the mind – if you teach your kids to respect themselves, they will never do it again. My son is showing signs of changing and [we] help him to choose his friends carefully." #bullyingmustfall
Heavy fines, manual labour, juvy or therapy?
Kay Gounder: "Send them to juvenile school"
"Put the children in juvenile school where they’re taught to be adults and how to treat a person."
Michelle Dethian: "Bring in the courts and community service"
"I think the courts should be bought in. First-time offenders should be given community service, detention at school – not nice detention like writing out lines, but cleaning of toilets, manual labour if you like, weeding school lawns, etc.
"Second offenders should be taken to a juvenile detention center and shown the reality of what could happen to them, we need to deal with these kids harshly.
"It's a pity that corporal punishment is abolished because a good hiding in the old days certainly sorted out a lot. I also think that social services should be bought in to assess what's going on at home. The good old saying of sometimes you need to be cruel to be kind goes a long way."
Nizia: "Expel the bully! Why should the victim move schools?
"Parents of bullies should be held liable. There needs to be more interaction between parents and schools. When bullies are found guilty, they should be punished accordingly. If they were not doing this on school grounds, it would be called harassment, assault, assault with a deadly weapon or murder. Why should the victims of these bullies be the ones who often exchange schools? The bully just moves on to his next target. Expel the bully!"
Samuel Ngema: "Expel bullies and put it on their records"
"I have a two-year-old boy, however this topic is so touchy. On my way to work we were discussing it with my wife. These are my thoughts:
- 1. Bullies should be expelled, and their parent has to sign an assurance that their kid(s) won't repeat it again and parent be held accountable.
- 2. Should they repeat the same action, same year, term, month or a week after they return to school premises, they should be banned from that school for the remainder of the year and never allowed back to the same school.
- 3. They will have to go with that record even if they get accepted on another school.
"I may be voicing this out of hurt, however I believe I am responsible for my child's behaviour when I'm not in front of him/her. Respect is what we get taught at our homes, not at school.
"And lastly as parents we have a huge responsibility to teach our children not to discriminate, by status, colour or family beliefs but to embrace everyone."
Reinett Cromhout: "Let them apply for conditional re-entrance into school"
"The school may not choose its learners. But it is held accountable for the behaviour of these learners. Hand the bully over to the parents and force them to address the unacceptable behaviour – then they can apply for conditional re-entrance into the school."
Phil Royster: "Fine the parents"
"Accountability starts at home. As a former school teacher I am very familiar with parents’ lackadaisical attitudes when it comes to their children's behaviour in school. You can't imagine how many parents didn't want to get involved, until they were forced with suspension or expulsion and the parents were required to take off from work to attend to their child's issues, when it could have been dealt with before the point of expulsion. Children learn what they live. The majority of my kids that bullied had something going on at home.
"I say fine the parents, force them to go through the same punishment phase that their children have to go through and it is a pretty safe bet that we will see a reduced number of cases.
"I know some of my former colleagues’ schools have since started imposing fines and court appearances, and it’s quite a revenue windfall at times."
Elvievan: "Sue the parents!"
"Parents should be sued! The laws in this country need to change so there are real consequences. Bullying today has gotten out of hand. It's everywhere and in all levels of schools. Nothing is being done about it."
Anonymous: "Arrest the parents!"
"Of course parents should be held accountable. For a first-time offender, a warning should be given to the child and parents. After that, the child should be suspended and the parents arrested.
"This may seem extreme, but having removed my child from a school where no-one was interested in acting against bullies, I don't think it is. Even in the new school, bullies continue to rule and get away with their unacceptable behaviour. If my son dares to fight back, he is the one that gets in trouble. Bullying needs serious attention, soon.
"Please keep my comments anonymous as the school I removed my son from threatened me with legal action on more than one occasion if I should talk to the press."
Lauren: "Send the bully and parents for counselling"
"I feel strongly that parents of these school bullies should also be held personally and financially responsible for their children's playing out. Some form of retribution needs to be implemented where the children and their parents need to undergo anti-bullying counselling, failing which the parents get criminally charged along with their bully children under the laws of this country.
"Anyone who bullies my children will have a police case of intimidation and harassment filed immediately by myself."
Caren Randall: "The bully's parents must pay for the victim's therapy"
"I agree, bullies and their parents should be accountable. I don't think a fine will solve the problem, expulsion is the answer. If not, the bully should be out to work by cleaning the school after hours instead of an extra-mural. Parents of bullies must pay for the victim’s therapy. What about cyber-bullying? How would we solve that problem?"
Corinne Stephanus: "Counselling will deal with underlying issues"
"How I would handle it. Get the parents and children in. One-on-one with a counsellor present. You are bound to find that there are underlying issues that need to be dealt with."
Readers gave advice to the parents of bullies:
Elize Ellis: "Parents must wake up"
"I agree that bullies’ parents should be the ones to pay. They teach their kids to be bullies. Kids are like puppies: teach them to be placid, they will be placid. Teach them to be wild and to bully and that's what they will become. So parents must wake up to their kids’ faults."
Ewald Roets: "It starts with parents' attitude of 'I'm better than you'. All bullies are cowards"
"I do not think that schools are responsible for teaching children basic things like respect, trust and to love one another. If a child is bullying at school, there is obviously a problem at home. No child is born with a preconceived idea of bullying. Children copy what they see at home.
"The problem starts with a parent’s bad attitude of “I am better than you”. It starts with a parent that doesn’t follow a simple traffic rule like stopping at a stop street. It starts with how parents speak to each other and treat each other in front of the children. It starts at home.
"The school’s job is education and development of the mind to study more – not the preparation of the child’s heart. The child’s heart ought to be prepared at home by the parent.
"Thus I agree – hold the parents liable – it is their fault. Fine the parents with amounts that can help the school with other needs.
"If parents had enough courage to do some introspection, he or she WILL find enough faults to work on for the rest of their lives. Nobody is perfect. It is a coward that is not willing to do introspection and take responsibility for what has been entrusted unto them.
"In essence, all bullies are cowards. They prey on the weaker ones because they can’t face their own issues and on top of it, a parent showed him/her that.
"The school fees parents pay cannot 'buy' a child that turns into a mature, respectful, trustworthy adult. There is not enough money in this world for that. Worst is, those attributes are actually free. If parents spent less time at work, chasing money, the golf course, drinking, hobbies – whatever it is that is stealing their time – we just might have better behaving children."
Muzi Lubisi: "You're the parent, not their friend"
"This is a no brainer, yes, parents should be held accountable. Either way you look at it, the kid's parents are failing at parenting. Parents are quick to pass on the responsibility of raising their kids.
"Off topic, but it surfaces in discipline issues too. When the kid is wrong, parents back the kid up instead of disciplining them when they clash with their teachers or even get bad marks. Too many parents are trying to be their children's friends instead of parenting."
Xuan du Plessis: "Stop being a bully yourself"
"Yes yes yes, I couldn't agree more! Parents of bullies most of the time are bullies themselves. My childhood was infected with bullies. They scarred me for life. My parent used to try everything, including speaking to the parents of bullies. Most answers she used to get back from parents of bullies was 'it's what children do' or 'maybe you should toughen up your boy a bit more' or 'why are you calling me, are you looking for a beating yourself'.
"If you also see what some parents see as good parenting you will realise where kids get it from. My favourite is dads that toughen up their kids by beating them up 'play-play'… if the kid starts crying, the parent calls him/her a baby, tells them to toughen up. Bullies to me are potentially the wife-beaters or worse, killers of tomorrow."
Rhinah: "Some parents even cheer on their bully kids"
"I know a situation where some parents knew about their kids’ bullying behaviours and did nothing to reprimand their kids. Instead, they blamed others for their kids’ behaviours. Some parents also showed tendencies of cheering their kids on to bully others. This leads to a situation where the bullies will show aggressive behaviours towards teachers as well. Yes, to solve the problem, the solution must start with parents, not schools."
Noah: "Don't be too quick to run to your kids' defence"
"I agree 100%. As parents we are quick to run to the defence of our kids and fail to take responsibility, in turn compelling our kids to do the same. The fact that kids are even able to record and cheer on during such incidences makes it clear that examples needs to be set and parents should shoulder their parts as guardians. Failure will lead to other parents taking matters into their own hands and what will we be teaching our kids then?"
Ryan L: "Emotionally and mentally bullying has a huge impact on a person's life"
"I myself was bullied all through high school, and although it made me learn to stand up for myself and others, it made me hate school and my grades took a serious dip.
"I believe suspension is definitely required. And if it continues, then expulsion and possible criminal charges should be brought to the culprit.
"Bullying is a serious problem. And being a parent now of a 4-year-old and 6-year-old, if I had to catch them bullying I would go so far as having charges laid against them myself. And if I had to catch them being bullied, heaven help the child who dare bully my child.
"Children need to be taught hands are for loving as I tell my children every morning. And that it's not okay to put your hands on anyone or even verbally abuse them.
"We were taught sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never harm me… not physically anyway... but emotionally and mentally it has a huge impact on that person's life. So please stop the bullying, there is no need for it."
Shane Johnson: "Teach your kids the importance of respect. Bullying can cause long-term trauma"
"Great article! Having been a victim of bullying myself, I completely agree that parents of bullies should be held accountable. It is a matter of upbringing – if parents teach their kids the importance of respect for everyone, bullying will not happen.
"I was able to overcome the emotional trauma that comes with being bullied. It was a horrible time in my childhood. Many kids are not able to overcome such trauma. The effects can cause long-term emotional and psychological problems for victims of bullying. In light of this, I would agree with imposing sanctions on bullies and parents of bullies."
Lynne Brook: "Bullies don't necessarily come from a bullying home environment"
"Bullies pick on the vulnerable. They do not necessarily come from a bullying home environment. Psychological counselling is necessary to evaluate the reason for and to correct the bad behaviour."
Sindha Goal: "Kids behave differently at home and parents believe they're angels"
"It definitely starts from home. Some of us parents only know our kids at home, the moment kids leave home – haha, they portray a different picture. Some children’s attitude stinks and if you comment and bring it to the school teachers, nothing is done. Parents don’t believe their angel said or did bad stuff."
Ravona Karamanska: "Don't tarnish a school's good name"
"My son is a learner at a school which recently made headline news after a video was circulated on social media. Did the video paint the true picture? Did the media establish ALL the facts, that is 3 sides to the story – my side, your side and the truth? Did the parent who circulated the video tell the whole truth? The said school is renowned for its ethos and its discipline in particular.
"Parents should be held accountable for their children’s behaviour. It all starts at home! My child's junior school had the entire school address the subject of bullying. Why should a school lose its reputation because of a few rotten apples? The rotten apples should be removed from the school and sent for rehabilitation.
"It is often circumstances at home that lead to bullying. It's a social evil and should be dealt with by means of engagement with the school and parent body. Parents do not display enough interest in their children’s overall education, which is evident at PTAs and any school event. Children lack discipline at home and educators are held responsible – not fair!"
Anina van der Spuy: "Teachers aren't security guards"
"Hats off to people who are finally stressing the truth: the school cannot take responsibility for parents not doing their jobs teaching ethics and respect! Parents, lead your children by example.
"Probably most importantly, shifting the blame does not resolve a child's socially UNacceptable behaviour. That starts in the home, years before formal schooling! Give teachers the full contact time to teach, not play security guards."
"Speaking from experience, there is almost always a connection between a bully's reasons for bullying and the parents. The parents should definitely be held accountable."
Schools must step up
Gerhard Freyer: "Teachers aren't equipped"
"Schools have a big part to play. Our children spend most of their day at school and teachers have an obligation to ensure a fair and safe environment for all children. The biggest problem that I have personally witnessed is that teachers are either not equipped or interested in dealing with bullying."
Klaus: "The school told us 'boys will be boys'"
"My son is subjected to bullying at school. Although it's verbal, it cuts as deep as if he were slashed by a knife. He is 10 years old and I've had to take him to therapy. He can't sleep at night because of the nightmares resulting from this abuse.
"This has been reported to the school authorities but we were told 'boys will be boys'. My son was then called in as well as the offending boy and they both had to sign a contract to support each other, any of the two failing this will result in both boys’ immediate detention. So much for anti-bullying when the victim is punished by the school authorities as well.
"That is why the anti-bullying campaigns never work. Schools are reliant on maintaining the income from all parents, strange how many bullies come from well-off families.
"After this incident my wife and I were told by the school that my son is looked up to and respected by the majority of his peers and teachers and it is always the case that 'the tallest tree catches most the wind'. So the bully needs to destroy him because the bully is not the center of attention.
"Parents and school should address the root cause. Victims protected. Bullies assisted."
Michael Nel: "There's clearly a lack of supervision"
"The parents of the 14-year-old boy being bullied should take drastic action by laying a criminal charge against the boys committing the assault. They should also get a good lawyer to institute a claim against the school for not making sure that pupils are safe when attending school. It is clear that there is a lack of supervision during breaks. The school is responsible to implement measures to safeguard pupils when attending school. Don't let them get away with this. You owe it to your child."
Jay Pee van der Merwe: "The bullies' parents are usually on the school board"
"I know for a fact that most bullies in school usually play sports... and their parents are on the school board. Children who are bullied go to school in fear and that is no way to start your day. To pay protection is like selling drugs."
Sheila Vusi: "If teachers know about it and do nothing, they're not fit to be teachers"
"If children are bullying others at school, they must be expelled – that is it. If the teachers know about it and they are doing nothing – then they are not fit to be teachers in those schools. This will lead to parents coming to school to create more chaos – imagine a father whose child is being bullied coming to school to kill the one who is bullying his child, then the problem is even bigger. I would not stand anyone BULLYING my own child.
"So the parents of those kids should be informed and they need to find a place for their kids, and this should be included in their reports, so that at the next school they go to, they are well known, as it was their choice to become “bullies”.
"Sometimes even parents are to be blamed because some of them cover up the behaviour of their own kids – how can their children then receive help for this disease?"
Let's all work together
Julia Wykeham: "A child cannot learn effectively under physical or mental stress"
"As a parent I want to know that my children are in a safe learning environment. A child cannot learn effectively if they are under physical or mental stress. And it is not fair to the educator or the school for lessons to be interrupted because of bad behaviour. This takes valuable teaching time away from the class and causing the overall standard of education to drop. This has a negative impact on the school. Not only academically, but what parent will want to send their children to a school that has a bad reputation?
"It is definitely not my job as an educator to instil manners, and decent morals and values. Those should have been instilled by a family member. Although I do feel at the start of every year all students should be told in class about the code of conduct and why it's there in the first place. Parents need to support the schools that their children go to, as a school governing body is only effective as the parents who run it. The principal should be very serious about following the code of conduct, and make sure it is fairly followed.
"Parents of bullies should most definitely be heavily fined and the learner needs to get a record. So even if they are accepted to another school, they are on a kind of probation. So should they be involved in truant behaviour in the future, the punishment will be far more severe. For both student and parent. Parents need to realise that for their children to be taught effectively they need to be in an environment that is conducive to learning. Then their child will succeed.
"Teachers and all those involved at the school should also be aware that they themselves are not tyrants and bullies."
The government is to blame?
Ryno van der Merwe: "Our hands are cut off by government"
"I think the government is the problem. They tell kids that they have rights and can't be touched by parents. I'm not saying that you should abuse your child but giving them a hiding now and then will help keep them in line. We are raising kids without boundaries and respect, and our hands are cut off by the government.
"Government teaches children that if you don't get your way then burn it down and violate the right of other children's education. No rules, no respect, no boundaries and no education leads to bullying, murder, theft, abuse, rape, etc, which leads to them getting free food and education in jail. This all for another vote because what criminal won't vote for a corrupt government? All we can do now is try our best to raise our children the right way and hope that a broken system doesn't corrupt them."
"Finally, some progress"
First letter, 14 June 2016:
"I have read your article on bullying at school. My daughter, her class friends and teacher are subject to bullying more than once or twice a week. I have contacted the Department of Education; all that has been done is counselling for the bully, but yet he still continues to cause chaos in class. Last week he punched my daughter and her friend and then attacked the teacher.
"At this moment I find it very difficult as the principal seems to dismiss everything that we have to say to him. I have even managed to contact the Ministry and of Education and not even they are able to get in contact with him.
"To make matters even worse, he has violated my parental right by putting my daughter aged 8 into counselling without myself or husband giving him consent. When my husband spoke to him, he dropped the telephone is his ear. And to top everything off, he is unavailable and not replying to emails either."
Recent letter, August 2016:
"Recent update to the bullying at school: the boy is receiving counselling and doing much better as per his behaviour. However I complained to the principal’s CM and was outraged at the call I received back, when it was made out [that] my daughter was the one with the issue.
"After months of trying to get hold of the school, this week I finally received an email from the school saying that they are willing to see me to discuss my concerns."
*Some letters edited for length.
Do you feel strongly about bullying and have something to add to the voices above? If you have a story to tell, please email email@example.com.