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PNW adventure mama,  gentle parenting, natural homeschooling, and simple living mentor, and founder of Sage Family.


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Public Humiliation as Discipline

Dec 27, 2013

I can honestly say that this phenomenon of parents publicly shaming their children as a form of discipline is one parenting trend that I did not see coming. It has taken me so long to write about it because quite frankly, I just cannot wrap my head around it. I have hesitated to even speak to it to avoid lending it any legitimacy. I had so hoped that these blips that kept popping up onto my radar were crazy flukes that would soon cease.

Yet they persist.

Siblings who needed help settling a dispute are stuffed together in a large “get along” shirt, photographed, and mocked by their parent’s friends. Teens who didn’t feel safe enough to tolerate the vulnerability of sharing a truth with their parents are photographed holding “I lied” signs as they stand along busy roads, video recorded, and humiliated in front of their physical and online communities.

It flabbergasts me at two points along the process. First, that any parent would come up with the idea to publicly humiliate their child as a form of discipline. Second, and this one is the kicker, that other parents would see that, think it is a great idea, and jump on the bandwagon.

I feel that even addressing the error of this rationale sets humanity back in our evolution a few notches but because despite my disbelief, I would officially call this a parenting trend, I will render a response. As I struggle to be more eloquent than “WTF”, please bear with me.

Don’t publicize your child’s hard moments.

First I will address the “public” aspect of public humiliation as a disciplinary tool. I suspect the true motivation here is attention seeking on the part of the parent. Like a parent who seeks treatment for an illness within their child that they themselves cause (Munchhausen Syndrome), parents who create absurd shame-based punishments for their children only to glorify them in the public forum are seeking attention. Don’t pretend you posted it on Facebook for their benefit.

Your children won’t learn to get along better because your Facebook friends are laughing at them.

Remember, these photos and anectodes, once shared on the Internet, are permanent. Since this behavior by its very nature implies a severe lack of empathy in the perpetrator, I will dumb it down (in EQ terms): Would you want your most defeated moments broadcast for the world to laugh at? I shudder that I even have to write that question!

That time you lost your temper and screamed at your child over something unimportant as they cowered in fear and sadness – say cheese! Your husband just took a photo and posted it online for everyone to gawk at from your potential employers to your children in the future after you are gone. Is it okay because it “taught you a lesson?” Did it teach you a lesson?

No! The only thing that publicly humiliating someone in their weakest moments teaches is that you cannot be trusted and that you are not a safe person with whom they can be vulnerable.

What would you hope your husband would have done instead, when you lost control of your emotions and made a bad choice?

Shame is not an effective form of discipline.

This brings me to the second aspect of this disturbing trend: shame as a means of discipline. That time your children were driving you crazy and you lost your temper and screamed at them over nothing, what you really needed was to be put in an oversized shirt with them? That’s funny (not really) because when my children are making me batty (which never happens ;), I hope my husband will give me a break. I can be my best parenting self when I give myself the space and time to recenter upon losing myself in a conflict with someone I love. I look to the guidance of someone I trust for a dose of wisdom and perspective.

Shame is not a part of any equation that helps teach anyone to be his or her best self.

Like a bully on the schoolyard, the virtual crowd all gathers to watch you humiliate those over whom you can exercise your power. Some would even cheer you on. This is unfortunatly a common phenomenon. And it doesn’t make it right. As a bystander, deny the approval they seek through their acting out behavior. Ignore it or express your disproval. A simple, “No,” can send a resounding message. We create our cultural boundaries through what we will and will not accept. Be the change and socialize the change in your parenting peers.

Listen to Episode 7 of the Sage Family Podcast if you want to learn how to discipline without shame.

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