Shame on You! Why We Are Failing our Kids by Using Public Humiliation to Teach Important Life Lessons

By: Marie Williams

By now we’ve all seen the stories on television or online, of parents using novel and very public approaches to discipline their teens and teach them important life lessons. Often, it involves exposing a mistake or lapse in judgment in a very humiliating way. One example made national news recently when a mother in Houston discovered that her daughter had posted inappropriate pictures on Facebook. The mother’s response was to make her teen pose with a sign that read: “Since I want to post photos of me holding liquor I am obviously not ready for social media and will be taking a hiatus until I learn what I should + should not post. BYE-BYE." The image of the young woman, who was clearly crying, holding the handmade sign, was broadcast nationally and is still being talked about.

[Related: The Benefits of Social Networking]

On a popular news site, where I frequently read and comment on current events, I was struck by how few comments objected to the form the punishment took, or even expressed any sense of empathy for the young girl in the photo. Most were along the lines of: “I’m glad this mother did this! Kids today need to learn about consequences!” But the most interesting and comment I read was: “Where I am from, they have a name for making your kid do that kind of thing. Parenting.”

Whoa, I thought. Is that what that is? Parenting?

Because from where I sat, it didn’t resemble any notion of parenting that I recognized. It did however strike me as mean-spirited, emotion- focused rather than solution-oriented, and harmful on a number of levels. I could only imagine what it did to this young woman’s self-esteem, to the feelings of trust she may have had in her parents as allies, and perhaps even to her other relationships if she were to become a subject of ridicule among her peers. But hey, maybe that’s just me.

Still, knowing myself to be someone who can sometimes hold fast to fixed opinions with little or no basis in fact, I decided to do a little research about shaming punishments. What I rediscovered was something that I think we have all known for quite some time. Shaming has always been a part of crime and punishment, from the Middle Ages and well into Colonial times when it was common to punish criminals by sending them to the stocks where they were not only restrained but subjected to public ridicule.

In contemporary America, shaming punishment is still with us: drunk drivers in some states are required to put special license plates on their cars notifying other drivers of their offense, shoplifters are made to take out ads in local papers telling about their theft, and men who have solicited prostitutes have their names printed in the paper. The problem is, while reasonable minds might differ on whether these are appropriate punishments for breaking the law, none of these offenses are at all similar to the predictable and developmentally appropriate occurrences of bad judgment exhibited by young people. And they certainly aren’t models for effective and supportive parenting.

Thanks to a wealth of new and emerging research on adolescent brain development, we now know that teens and young adults don’t do foolish things just to make us frustrated and angry. They do them because they are developmental works in progress. Not yet adults, and no longer infants, they are still becoming the persons they will be. And because of this, they are particularly prone to impulsive behavior, flawed judgment, and occasional acts of recklessness and yes, stupidity. We now know, for instance, that the prefrontal cortex, which governs the “executive functions” of reasoning, advanced thought and impulse control is the very last area of the human brain to mature and that the final stages of maturation conclude around the age of 25.

[Related: Parenting: It's Worth the Wait.]

As someone who was prone to more than my share of hijinks during my pre-teen and teenage years, I am keenly aware of how it might have felt to have such a punishment exacted for my various misdeeds. That time when as a fifteen-year old I snuck out to the party I was very clearly forbidden to attend--What would it have felt like, I wonder, if my father had paraded me across the dance floor with a sign bearing some humiliating message? What would I have learned from that?

[Related: Is My Kid Normal?]

I don’t know for certain, but given my headstrong nature, I suspect I would have altered my view of him entirely. No longer an over-protective father, he would have been transformed into an untrustworthy and malevolent figure; someone who would actively seek to belittle and humiliate me, someone who I might not seek out if what I needed was empathy and understanding. And perhaps, someone who taught me that empathy and understanding were not to be valued at all. But like I said, maybe that’s just me.

Tell Us:-->Do you agree or disagree with Marie's point of view? How do you discipline your teen? _______________________________________________________________________

Resources:

1. American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, The Teen Brain: Behavior, Problem Solving, and Decision Making Fact Sheet.

2. Patricia Hoolihan, Launching Your Teen into Adulthood: Parenting through the Transition, Search Institute, free sample.

3. David Walsh, Ph.D, Why Do They Act That Way?: A Survival Guide to the Adolescent Brain for You and Your Teen, Search Institute. To purchase, click here.

4. Paul Thompson, Ph.D., “Time-Lapse Imaging Tracks Brain Maturation From Ages 5 to 20,” National Institutes of Mental Health, and the University of California Los Angeles, May 2004; also, author interview with Robin Jenkins, Ph.D., June 2006.

5. Beatrice Luna, Ph.D., “Brain and Cognitive Processes Underlying Cognitive Control of Behavior in Adolescence,” University of Pittsburgh, Oct. 2005.

6. Image via HuffingtonPost.com

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=484062601694424&set=vb.100002720651…
I would like to submit this video that has gone viral here in Grenada, for your comments. Not only public shaming, but corporal punishment, is the norm here.

I disaggre with Maire psoint of view. How shameful is it let some know what she postedin a picture on facebook for the world to see. She was shamed and humilated. Where was the shame and humiliation when she was drinking underage and posting the pictures for eveyone to see.

5
Loved your article. We really are programmed by our parents and society. As adults, people spend millions in counseling trying to overcome unhealthy shame. Denise Mistich

I would like to add thought or two. What the teenagers of today post about themselves will be available on the internet FOREVER! This generation of young people will receive no forgiveness in the future for the public ignorance they expose today. It is a completely different world. As with our presidents who are questioned about their mis-steps in their youth, we will not need to ask in the future, we will just do a Google search. We talk about a teens lack of brain maturity and so and hence the need to get a bit assertive to make sure that the information and love and caring we are communicating is heard, not just blowing through their “undeveloped” mind. It saddens me when adults, instead of respecting another parents parenting, feel the need to criticize and tear apart another persons parenting. I think teenagers need to see adults more united and respectful of each other, it lets them know that the authority God has placed in their lives is the authority they need to obey and respect, good or bad, guaranteed to be imperfect, but hopefully doing the best with what each of us have been given and know.

4

“Parenting isn’t for cowards”, is one of my favorite summary quotes by a well known family expert. The picture that went through my head after reading the previous comments was scary. What if someone ‘over me’ paraded my parenting mistakes for the public to judge?! You know the ones, the breaking point where you yelled ridiculous and horrible things about “selling them to the highest bidder!”. Need I ramble on, filling in the list of ‘hall of shame’ parenting disasters? The heavy sense of failure we experience at those moments is already debilitating. I am quite SURE that public judgment and ridicule would not serve to ‘inspire’ me to better parenting skills. It would, however, take the emotional pain OFF of the real issue (my behavior) and waste the purpose of the pain of learning, deflecting it onto the judge. So instead of the heartfelt reflection of my self inflicted stupidity, I would miss the opportunity to take responsibility by focusing on being angry at the wrong person. Isn’t this exactly the opposite of our goal as parents? I often think that I simply need to get out of the way and allow my teens to feel the full weight of their decision making, whether it produces pleasurable consequences or painful ones. I believe that this prepares them for the real world where their mommy is not going to be around to police their actions. That is where the above quotes comes in. It takes great courage to ‘allow’ your child to suffer natural consequences. The public shame part of the teen girl in question was not ‘natural’. I wonder if simply having the student post a ‘good bye’ message to her social media site with the truthful reason, would have been sufficient. Her friends, and not strangers, would have delivered plenty of gentle, ‘friendly fire’ to produce the ‘natural’ painful consequences desired. With a very challenging teen girl, I have one survival tool that I use to keep it simple for me. “Preserve the Relationship.” I filter my mouth and my emotions through this sieve. It helps me to see beyond my nose and remember that I do not want to cut her off at the knees, although I may FEEL like it. Eventually, when she arrives at the end of the separation process, I want to have a relationship with my adult daughter. So regardless of the seeming atrocity of the moment, “Preserve the Relationship”. Take courage, my fellow parents! We can DO this.

“Parenting isn’t for cowards”, is one of my favorite summary quotes by a well known family expert. The picture that went through my head after reading the previous comments was scary. What if someone ‘over me’ paraded my parenting mistakes for the public to judge?! You know the ones, the breaking point where you yelled ridiculous and horrible things about “selling them to the highest bidder!”. Need I ramble on, filling in the list of ‘hall of shame’ parenting disasters? The heavy sense of failure we experience at those moments is already debilitating. I am quite SURE that public judgment and ridicule would not serve to ‘inspire’ me to better parenting skills. It would, however, take the emotional pain OFF of the real issue (my behavior) and waste the purpose of the pain of learning, deflecting it onto the judge. So instead of the heartfelt reflection of my self inflicted stupidity, I would miss the opportunity to take responsibility by focusing on being angry at the wrong person. Isn’t this exactly the opposite of our goal as parents? I often think that I simply need to get out of the way and allow my teens to feel the full weight of their decision making, whether it produces pleasurable consequences or painful ones. I believe that this prepares them for the real world where their mommy is not going to be around to police their actions. That is where the above quotes comes in. It takes great courage to ‘allow’ your child to suffer natural consequences. The public shame part of the teen girl in question was not ‘natural’. I wonder if simply having the student post a ‘good bye’ message to her social media site with the truthful reason, would have been sufficient. Her friends, and not strangers, would have delivered plenty of gentle, ‘friendly fire’ to produce the ‘natural’ painful consequences desired. With a very challenging teen girl, I have one survival tool that I use to keep it simple for me. “Preserve the Relationship.” I filter my mouth and my emotions through this sieve. It helps me to see beyond my nose and remember that I do not want to cut her off at the knees, although I may FEEL like it. Eventually, when she arrives at the end of the separation process, I want to have a relationship with my adult daughter. So regardless of the seeming atrocity of the moment, “Preserve the Relationship”. Take courage, my fellow parents! We can DO this.

Excellent post Marie and I agree! I cringed when I saw the humiliating father from TX (?) shoot his daughter’s laptop out of frustation with her social media post. What?? Parenting teenagers is incredibly challenging and I understand the desire to fight back with the shock factor. However, it seems to me that humiliation is punishment, an effort to gain attention and negatively effect emotion rather than discipline which gives the parent the opportunity to teach a lesson and positively impact self-esteem. Is the example in your post an attempt to brandish a virtual Scarlett Letter on her child? It’s out there in the cyber world now with no way to safely retrieve it. I hope this child receives some compassion and tolerance from others as a result of the parents’ post. Kudos Marie! ~Sarah in Colorado

5

I completely agree with Marie’s point of view…with couple of highlights. I personally know what it’s like to parent 13 (going on 14) year old girl. She is smart, creative, fun loving, and head strong (all qualities I LOVE) but, sometimes she can use her talents to drive me crazy. And, when that happens, my judgement and frustration can take over and I make a bad decision. So, I would like to remind the parents reading this post and parents out there that might be struggling with the same things like to stop, breathe, process then act. It’s really easy to jump to action but, wait for a moment.

Post new comment