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Why Publicly Shaming Our Kids Is Not OK

By Stacey Ross

Have you seen a post about the dad who wore Daisy Dukes to teach his daughter a lesson about modesty? Well, after checking out a few links, I gather it was more of a publicity stunt than it was an act of public shaming, as the dad seemingly was not out to humiliate his daughter but rather collaborate with her (reality-show style) to make a point that “modest is the hottest.”

If they were aiming to capitalize on the Miley Cyrus circus, since the daughter has the same name and similar looks, they succeeded, obtaining a good amount of traditional and social media coverage, while sending out a great message.Sadly, though, the feel-good story is presented alongside similar-themed stories that demonstrate toxic methods to teach children life lessons.

Shaming kids online as a form of discipline

Shaming kids publically and online as a means to correct their behavior is a method that some parents resort to when they feel at their wits end. We have seen this play out online time and time again when it comes to shaming children for not properly using the restroom or for stealing from their parents, for example.

One incident opened my eyes to the desperate means that some parents take to try and regain parental control. It was my very first post on this site, entitled, A response to the laptop-shooting, tough love Dad. It shares a scenario of a dad who was pushed to the limit by his daughter, and resorts to shaming tactics to prove to the world who is boss in his family.

In another situation, a California mom punished her tween  by having her stand at a busy intersection wearing a sign that read, “I was disrespecting my parents by twerking at a school dance.”

When parents choose to mortify their kids for all the world to witness, they are not only revealing that they have been ineffective with their children, which is highly unsettling, but that they are willing to resort to public humiliation to try and build a better relationship. To me, it is a counterproductive cry for professional help, and digs an even deeper hole for the family unit to get out of.

Questioning the old ways of disciplining

Many parents are accustomed to traditional methods of discipline (spanking, lecturing, shaming, grounding, sending kids to the corner), which represent punishment vs. positive discipline. The reality is that it that these styles, research shows, might not be all that effective in the long haul.

The willingness for us to probe deeper into ourselves as parents and consider alternative communication tactics when we feel like we have “tried everything” is the true act of heroism, rather than trying to become a parental superhero in the blogosphere or on the 5-o’clock news!

Going the route of humiliating kids in public is about as logical and productive as beating someone into submission. While desperate parents might feel that their extreme measures will pay off, they are likely creating an illusion of parental empowerment, which runs the risk of being a temporary "solution" to a deeply-rooted problem.

Another humiliating exercise some play out online is forcing kids to hold signs with demeaning messages. Recently, a Florida couple made their daughter stand at the intersection for 90 minutes holding a sign that said, "I'm a Self-entitled teenager w/no Respect for authority. I'm also super smart, yet I have 3 ‘D's' because I DON'T CARE."  The opportunity to transform the negative into a positive appears a lost cause in this little exercise, in my humble opinion.

And a Colorado stepmom sent her step kids to school in T-shirts that say, "I am disrespectful" and "I steal," defending her parenting style wholeheartedly by claiming she had tried everything and thinks she is making headway with her method. How about creating shirts that say “I am learning about integrity; ask me to tell you more!"

Public shaming exposes children to news cameras, reporters, and now, Facebook photographs! It not only puts a “permanent record” online, but it invites attention that might not be solution-oriented. Kids being forced to hold or wear signs with negative messages has been shown to be counter-productive, reinforcing mistakes and keeping negative energy alive!

Tackling the issue

The more positive approach for change is to continually recondition kids to empower themselves, providing them ample opportunities to make new choices that produce better outcomes (beyond obedience) without a metaphorical gun to their heads. The desired outcome needs to involve replacing toxicity with positivity, and celebrating that the choices come from the kids, not from the parents. When children are the ones who get the credit for their positive changes, they should own their new behavior with pride. These are the type of things we want on public display!!

Licensed marriage and family therapist Leslie Cruz gave some great insight on the topic: “Parents want to teach lessons, which is great. The danger arises, however, when the lesson undermines or completely contradicts what it is you are out to teach. If you say 'don't lie' and you turn around and lie, you've just undermined yourself, and your child observes the hypocrisy. Fathers and mothers need to build relationships with their children every day, which involves dialogue.”

Time to heal

Parents who default to shaming ultimately need help with redirecting their children’s behavior by changing their own, so in their most desperate hours they don’t resort to humiliating tactics, which ultimately might backfire and continue to bring on even more negative behavior!

Bill Cosby, when he was on the Oprah Winfrey show in 2007 shared, “Hurt people hurt people,” which gives us a glimpse into the window of those parents who expose their painful personal affairs publicly. Despite their having been deeply hurt, they continue to shine a negative light on their issues at their children's expense.

The only good that comes out of this all is that it gets people talking and hopefully the pain-staking shouts out for help will lead these parents towards obtaining professional assistance.

Stacey Ross is an online consultant, social media enthusiast, freelancer and owner of SanDiegoBargainMama.com. A former teacher and middle school counselor, she is now a mom of two who researches and freelances about lifestyle topics involving family and well-being.

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