Disturbing New Punishment Is One No Parent Should Practice

We’ve all seen the social media posts — sad-eyed pets wearing handwritten signs about the damage they’ve wrought on the house or a favorite pair of shoes.  These photos posted by the pet owner are funny and lighthearted.

Social media sites like Facebook and Instagram allow us to document every moment of our lives, good or bad, and parents often share stories and photos of their children without thinking twice.

But one social media trend has taken parenting down a dark road.  Parents are shaming their kids online as punishment, often by holding signs that announce their wrongdoing. And unlike those animal photos, there is nothing funny about these posts.

Time Magazine reported:

Now, the lens replaces the lash. In dozens of recent news videos, kids, mostly tweens and teens, stand on street corners holding signs with damning, almost biblical texts: “I’m a liar and thief. When I grow up I want to go to prison. I am on the road to failure! I’m a self-entitled teenager.” Sometimes the children are openly crying. Sometimes they’re silent. Sometimes the signs include a defense of the parent: “I’ve embarrassed myself and my mother because she taught me better,” said one 13-year-old girl’s sign. Other signs invite participation from passersby: I am a bully. Honk if you hate bullies.”

Welcome to parenting in the digital age, with a highly controversial tactic employed by too many parents who think they are helping their child and themselves by getting a point across.

Often as parents, especially during the teen years, we feel like we just cannot get through to our children, and as if no form of discipline is working.  This is where some parents turn to “online shaming,” a last resort they feel will work by embarrassing their child in front of everyone they know.

It would seem obvious to some that shaming a child will have the opposite effect of what was intended.  This somewhat recent practice can backfire on parents with unexpected results, and have devastating consequences for children.

Social media discipline often becomes a solution that creates more problems than it solves.

Time Magazine reported on one such instance of “digital discipline,” that took a tragic turn which should serve as a warning to us all.

A dad in Tacoma, Wash., filmed his 13-year-old daughter with her long hair cut off and piled on the floor around her. She was being punished for sending a boy a racy photo. “Man, you lost all that beautiful hair,” says his voice in the background. “Was it worth it?”

That video went viral–especially after news spread that within days, she had jumped to her death from a highway overpass.

According to police, he never meant the video for public consumption, only as a reminder to her. She was the one who shared it with friends, before it found its way online. But however complex the motives for her suicide, the tragedy became the latest exhibit in the fierce debate over discipline, decency and the power of technology as a parenting tool.

The Washington Post reported:

It is hard to imagine a more improper or inappropriate use of social media by a parent than to use it punitively to publicly humiliate a minor child by requiring a child to publish a photograph of herself wearing the modem day equivalent of a scarlet letter to thereby notify the public of her wrongdoing.

But unlike the lighthearted innocence of those funny “animal shaming” posts, this new form of parental discipline should never be practiced.

We teach our children about cyberbullying and have heard stories in the news about the tragedies of teen suicide or severe depression related to the practice.

Imagine, then, how a child would feel when they are being bullied online by those who are supposed to keep them safe and secure — their own parents.

Teen cyberbullying is now a crime, so why do some parents believe these child shaming social media posts are any different?

Time Magazine continued:

This kind of shaming prompted Illinois state representative La Shawn K. Ford to propose legislation this month that would penalize parents who use social media to humiliate, intimidate or cause emotional distress to their children. “The Internet is forever,” says Ford. “These videos could have an effect on a child’s whole life, maybe cost them a job someday.” Parents found guilty of cyberbullying would pay a fine that would be kept in escrow for the child until they’re 18. Ford is also planning town halls with psychologists to discuss the dangers of publicly ridiculing kids.

Therapists are beginning to study this trend and are spreading the word that this form of punishment is not only ineffective, but extremely detrimental to a teen that is typically in a vulnerable emotional state as they grow and change.

Time Magazine reported on a therapist’s perspective of this practice:

“Whether or not you believe shaming a child is wrong, it usually doesn’t work as a deterrent. This is particularly true for teens, whose healthy development hinges in part on their ability to establish social currency. The reaction to shame is an inherent sense that you’re no good, that you’re damaged as a person.  And if you’re no good, what hope do you have of correcting what’s going on?”

“The research is pretty clear that it’s never appropriate to shame a child, or to make a child feel degraded or diminished,” said Andy Grogan-Kaylor, an associate professor of social work at the University of Michigan. Such punishments can lead to “all kinds of problems in the future,” Grogan-Kaylor said, including increased anxiety, depression and aggression.

Parents who try to make their kids behave by subjecting them to humiliating punishments are taking the wrong approach to discipline.  Malicious punishments can also damage a parent’s relationship with their child, and lead to a cycle of bad behavior, experts say.

Experts agree — positive parenting that reinforces good behaviors, teaches consequences in a non–threatening way, and involves private resolutions is the best practice for parents when a child needs discipline.

A supportive and loving environment with clear rules and good parental modeling is key.

Relating our experiences with our children’s struggles and resolving conflict in a mature manner — treating others as we would like to be treated — will have a much greater chance of success than embarrassing or shaming children.

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Be reasonable with expectations, keeping in mind that children need to learn from their mistakes and are not able to process the consequences of their behaviors at the same level as adults.And no discipline should be carried out publicly — ever.

Science Daily commented:

“Each time we [embarrass children with a punishment] we pay a price, and we drivethem away from us, and we lose our ability to be a role model for them.

When you disconnect from a child, he no longer wants to please you, he no longer wants to be like you. You’ve lost your power of influence over him.

Children who are punished in these ways usually still commit the behavior, but do it behind their parents’ backs.”

Family matters are private, and your child will have far greater respect for you and the rules of your household when discipline is handled appropriately.

What do you think of this form of parental discipline?

Should this tactic become illegal like cyberbullying?

Leave us your thoughts in the comments section below.



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