After 12-year-old Rebecca Sedwick jumped to her death from a tower in an abandoned Florida concrete plant last year, “cyberbullying” was on the nation’s tongue, NPR reports. Two classmates were charged with tormenting the girl so viciously on social media and in person that she committed suicide. Cyberbullying (aggravated stalking) charges were dropped and much of the blame landed not on Sedwick’s classmates, but on their parents. Criminal defense lawyer Mark O’Mara drafted legislation to hold parents criminally liable for their kids’ cyberbullying. Parents who let their children “use social media as a weapon need to wake the hell up,” he said.
Most states hold parents liable for their kids in civil court and criminalize “contributing to the delinquency of a minor.” Criminal charges for bad parenting are less common. Davenport, Ia., experimented with holding parents responsible for crimes like breaking curfew and possessing marijuana, but the Iowa Supreme Court struck down parts of the law. No research has been done to determine the effectiveness of laws that hold parents criminally liable, says Eve Brank of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “It’s often just a way for politicians to look hard on juvenile delinquency,” she says.