Imagine that someone at your child’s school creates a fake Instagram page about her. He may say racist things about her, or even accuse her of being racist. He may say nasty things about her appearance, falsely accuse her of taking illegal drugs, or imply that she is undergoing mental health treatment. He might invite other kids at the school to like the page. Surely you can take legal action against the cyber bully’s parents? Shouldn’t the parents be held responsible for bullying carried out by their children?
Surprisingly, parents usually are NOT automatically responsible for the bad acts of their children. To hold parents legally responsible, it is necessary to prove that the parents failed to properly supervise and control their kids. You may need to prove that the offending Instagram page was brought to the attention of the parents but they made no attempt to delete it. Or you may need to show that, if the school contacted the parents, they didn’t even ask their child about what he or she was posting on the page.
To make the parents liable, you would ordinarily need to prove that they did more than merely allow their child to have access to the internet. If they didn’t know about their child’s cyber bullying activities and had no reason to know about them, the parents will usually not be liable. But if they knew about the digital harm being done by their child and failed to take action to end that harm, they could face liability at law.
The point to remember is that parents can sometimes be liable for the bad acts of their children if there is evidence that they failed to take proper action, but parental liability is not automatic.