It is now a misdemeanor criminal offense in Maryland to cause “emotional distress” to anyone younger than 18 with online or smartphone posts, and punishment can be harsh.
Grace’s Law, named for 15-year-old Grace McComas of Howard County who killed herself after being bullied on Twitter, went into effect on Oct. 1. Those found guilty can face up to a year in prison and a $500 fine.
The law doesn’t specify what liability parents might have if their children are found to be cyberbullies but law enforcement officials and parents are speaking out on the topic.
It’s been widely reported that a Florida sheriff arrested two teen girls on aggravated stalking charges after a 12-year-old girl committed suicide last month. In an unrelated incident, the mother of one of the teen girls accused of cyberbullying was recently charged with child abuse and child neglect. She reportedly punched and shouted at children in a video that was later posted to Facebook, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
"This video was easily located on the juvenile's public social media page..." Florida Sheriff Grady Judd said in a statement, according to the paper. "It is clear, not only has [the woman] demonstrated she cannot control the behavior of children she has access to without using violence, but she is obviously not monitoring the social media sites of children she has access to either."
Most of the Marylanders polled informally on Patch Facebook pages say that parents should model positive behavior for their children and be responsible for how their children conduct themselves at all times. Some go farther, saying parents should be criminally liable when it comes to cyberbullying.
“If your kid throws a rock through my window, you're liable, right?” wrote Rick Zaborowski on Bel Air Patch’s Facebook page.
“Some parents are just as bad as their children. I have seen parents tell their child to bully another or threaten another,” wrote Veronica Yatsko Hruska on Anne Arundel Patch’s Facebook page. “If this happens, yes they should be held accountable. Parents need to parent, not be their child's friends!”
“They're yours. Control them or deal with the consequences!” Fred Packard wrote on Havre de Grace Patch Facebook page.
“Children are a reflection of the parents,” wrote Patrick Kelly on Dundalk Patch’s Facebook page.
Theresa Swayne agreed with Kelly on Dundalk Patch’s Facebook page: “So true, children are a reflection of their parents. They need to stop being the child's friend and start being the parent.”
“If they did nothing to stop it, even after it was a known fact that it was going on, then they should be charged,” wrote Laura E. Gayvert on Crofton Patch’s Facebook page.
“Parents should be liable for their children's behavior, period,” wrote Patrice Rodrigues Craig on Edgewater-Davidsonville Patch’s Facebook page.
“No one should be criminally liable for someone else’s actions, but I do think they should take responsibility as the parent and recognize their child is a bully instead of denying and rejecting that, wrote Josh Gilberto on Westminster Patch’s Facebook page.
“If you raise them right, you don't have to worry about it. But holding jail over people's heads isn't going to work, education will,” wrote Kathleen Grace Lehnert on Bel Air Patch’s Facebook page.
More Supervision Needed
Others said that parents need to actively supervise their kids’ online or smartphone communications and look for signs of bullying behavior.
“The Internet is not a babysitter. It needs to have constant monitoring,” wrote Colleen Lyons Dunnigan on Bel Air Patch’s Facebook page.
“They should be keeping track of what their kids are doing and how they treat others,” Melissa Hawkins wrote on Havre de Grace Patch’s Facebook page.
“Parents need to monitor online activity on all their devices. Phone, computers, tablets … everything. Know your kids’ passwords,” Beth Hoover Powers wrote on Maryland Patch’s Facebook page.
“If you cannot trust your child enough that you need to continually check, re-check and check again then take it away. That's the end of that,” wrote Mindy Campbell Rust on Anne Arundel Patch’s Facebook page.
“They are children and therefore should be monitored as to who they are talking to and what they are talking about. Parents who don't are just lazy,” wrote April Winder on Parkville-Overlea Patch’s Facebook page.
Tabatha Harrison agreed on Parkville-Overlea Patch’s Facebook page: “Lack of parental involvement and discipline is why kids are getting into/causing so much chaos anymore. If parents are made to be as afraid of legal action as they are of their kids, things might change.”
“Teach your kids to be kind to others and especially teach them respect for others and their property and the issues we have now will become history,” wrote Ryan Weitzel wrote on Havre de Grace Patch Facebook page.
“I have been on the bad end of this and think that sometimes the parents are kind of the ones who encourage it (not meaning to, but just by their own actions),” wrote Heather Price LoBianco on Edgewater-Davidsonville Patch’s Facebook page. “We just need to be aware of what our kids are doing.”
Is Monitoring 24/7 Possible?
Some questioned whether it was possible for parents to really know what their children are up to at all times.
“Seems a little ridiculous to make parents accountable up until the last day before they turn 18 … especially since children have free will,” wrote Karen Herzog Fiasco on Anne Arundel Patch’s Facebook page.
“A kid can get onto the Internet anywhere, not just at home. So how would that be regulated if a parent was responsible?” wrote Shannon Welford on Bel Air Patch’s Facebook page.
“No parent has the capability to monitor EVERY aspect of a child's life, especially with the accessibility kids have to the web these days. Say mom is working and the kid is at the local library participating in an FB burn book, is that still the fault of the parent?” wrote Nicole Fairley on Parkville-Overlea Patch’s Facebook page.
“Teenagers have a way of hiding things and they can't be watched 24/7 like an infant, they should be held accountable for their own actions!” wrote Jessica Lee on Havre de Grace Patch’s Facebook page.
Kids Should Accept Consequences
Others said kids should ultimately be held accountable for their actions.
“If a child is not at fault for their own actions than what are we teaching them?” wrote Tina Kerr on Annapolis Patch’s Facebook page. “My son knows right from wrong. He also knows that there are consequences for his actions. All kids are learning is the blame game.”
“The kids must already be bullies in general before they become cyber bullies. The parents are not properly supervising their children and correcting poor antisocial behaviors,” wrote Cynthia O'Carroll on Severna Park Patch’s Facebook page. “Kids should be held responsible for the act of cyber bullying.”
“I, as a parent, have been the best parent I could be to my children who are now grown. But we never know what they are going to do out of peer pressure or just plain stupidity. They are learning as they grow,” wrote Lisa Morgret Arthur on Bel Air Patch’s Facebook page. “The kid should be held responsible” but educated about what he or she did wrong.
“The parents should pay a fine, the child should do the time (in a juvie facility of course),” wrote Debbie McIlwain on Bowie Patch’s Facebook page.
“What should happen is the whole family is required to attend at least 52 sessions of intense family therapy. And empathy training,” wrote Jenny Aus on Owings Mills-Reistertown Patch’s Facebook page.
“How about making kids responsible for their own actions?” wrote Kathy Huber Morgan on Bowie Patch’s Facebook page. “This will teach them that there are consequences for their actions which will mold them into better people.”