Mommie Dearest: On Parents Who Publicly Shame Their Kids

When it comes to parenting, one of the more difficult aspects to figure out can be discipline. There doesn’t seem to be one set method that works for every child, yet everyone has an opinion on what supposedly works best. For parents, it feels like a lot is riding on our disciplinary method, as it’s a big part in helping to guide the desired behaviors of our children and raise a decent human being. Disciplinary techniques range all across the spectrum: time outs, spankings, negotiating, positive reinforcement, gentle discipline.It can be tricky to figure out what might work for your child and your family.

While I’m certainly no expert on discipline, I do have to say that there’s one type that leaves something to be desired: public shaming. It has popped up a lot recently and each instance never really sat well with me. Whether it’s snapping a photo of your toddler wearing a sign that details her transgressions and then posting it to social media or making your 7th grader hold a sign on a busy street corner as punishment for twerking at school, it feels like discipline gone wrong.

One of the more recent instances of public shaming was the mother who sold her daughter’s Katy Perry tickets via Facebook as punishment for disrespectful behavior. While the post has since been deleted (after the tickets were sold for $90!), it included the mom sharing that her “spoiled brat daughter doesn’t deserve these tickets.”

Kids can totally act bratty and obnoxious. But what makes some parents see a green light to publicly shame that behavior? What benefit do either parties get out of it? It’s one thing to take away your child’s concert tickets as punishment, but what’s the need to tack on public Facebook post calling out your kid’s behavior? How will that help her?

When it comes to discipline and punishment,the consequence should fit the crime whenever possible. My goal as a parent is to teach my child why the behavior he exhibited was not acceptable and to have him learn not to do it again. But when you start to dole out punishments that have no relation to the behavior at hand, then you’re teaching your child to either lie or hide it better. Trust me, I know. When I was a teen, my punishments were tossed out willy nilly, from the incredibly severe (missed a coveted school trip) to the benign, depending on my father’s mood that day. It didn’t teach me to behave better, but rather, to not get caught.

There’s also the matter of escalating your child’s resentment towards you. Will the Katy Perry girl turn her act around or harbor a massive grudge against her mom? Look, I don’t need nor want to be my kid’s best friend, but I also don’t want to become his enemy. Using shame as a punishment actively humiliates and causes our child embarrassment, rather than teaching a specific lesson. It makes things worse for our child, not better (which is the ideal goal with discipline, one would hope). A parent should also think about the messages he or she is sending to others about the way to treat their child. Teasing, shunning, and the green light to shame your child because you do it are all potential consequences beyond a harsh punishment. Just as bad is the possibility you are teaching your child that humiliating others is a perfectly acceptable way to treat others.

There are also other possible unintended repercussions. When we add shame into the disciplining mix, then it’s not far-fetched to think that we’re severing the trust our children have in us. I have no desire to lose my son’s trust or have him fear me. I want him to still be able to come to me if he is having problems, not worry that I will plaster those problems all over my Facebook wall.

No parent is an expert and we all have to make decisions based on our experiences and gut feelings. When we punish our kids, we should all consider the long-term implications of our behavior, too, though. Take away the concert tickets, have your child work to raise money for a broken vase, or ground them for a weekend, but please think long and hard about what value comes along with taking that next step and publicly shaming them for all to see.

Avital Norman Nathman blogs at The Mamafesto. Her book, The Good Mother Myth: Redefining Motherhood To Fit Reality, is out now. Follow her on Twitter.

[Image of a bratty little girl at Shutterstock]