Weigh In: Is Public Shaming an Appropriate Discipline Tool?

This week we want to hear how you feel about the growing trend of public shaming to discipline children.

I am a thief.

Ok, I was a thief. When I was about 4 years old I decided that I simply had to have a piece of candy from a large display at a grocery store. It was just sitting there calling my name. In current parenting parlance, "I made a bad choice," and helped myself. 

When my mom caught me red-handed, guilt written across my face, she marched me straightaway to the front of the store to speak to the manager. Though I don’t remember the specifics of what he said (I seem to remember jail was mentioned), what I do remember crystal clear is my painful embarrassment at having been called to account in front of the whole store, as curious customers looked on. I felt as small as my distorted image in the store’s overhead security mirror showed me to be.

I never stole anything again. I also have an aversion to hard candy. Coincidence?

But uncomfortable memories aside, I have never been arrested, and I have excellent teeth, so I guess my mom deserves a smiley face sticker on her parental reward chart?

I'm glad I didn't commit my youthful larceny in today's climate; otherwise my mom might have whipped out her smart phone, filmed my humiliation and uploaded it to the Internet in less than five minutes flat! 

I may have found myself to be an instant viral video star, like a young Texas lacrosse player who currently holds that title. He earned the dubious honor when he recently made the poor decision to cut the line boarding a Southwest Airlines flight. His coaches marched him to the front of the plane, and had him read a prepared statement of apology to the entire plane, and filmed the whole thing. (You can view the video here.)

Using public shaming as a mode of discipline and then broadcasting it to the larger public via social media seems to be becoming a thing in the last year.

Many people are familiar with the infamous "Facebook Dad" who blew his "disrespectful" daughter's laptop to smithereens, and posted the video to her Facebook page. There are many many more examples of public shaming of kids—kids holding signs in public places detailing their transgressions seems to be a particularly popular one.

This week in Parent Chat, we'd like to hear your thoughts about this trend in disciplining children. Do you think it is warranted? Do you think public shaming is an effective and appropriate mode of discipline? Why or why not?

Kirsten Branch August 18, 2012 at 01:20 AM
I hear you, Keri! It's so frustrating when another parent has a completely different conception of what is appropriate, and sounds like the mom you encountered pretty much reinforced her kids' behavior. I guess for me I think there is a distinction between disciplining in public, i.e. responding to behavior on the spot, and using the very nature of being in public as a part of the correction. In reading many of the stories over the last year, they seem to have a common theme: the parents had "had it" and wanted to knock their child down a peg or two because they "have an attitude," "are disrespectful," etc., and the public nature of the punishment is meant to do that. I just wonder if the humiliation results in the humility they seem to be going for?
Penny August 18, 2012 at 03:56 PM
As a child development professional I know what damage to self-esteem can do to children. The importance of understanding the effects of our behavior is more important than the actual act itself, without the shaming . I feel an effective way to impress this to the child is to use the "Golden Rule".. "do unto others, as you would have them do unto you"... How does it feel to have your things stolen, or in the case of the candy store, the owner pays for the candy they present for sale and that is like taking money from them. There a certain shame involved, but more emphasis on the idea that it hurts the other person. The harshest words that my own mom could say to me were, "I'm disappointed in you"... and the advice to make a better choice next time. Making amends is a good way to deal with the problem too, but shaming does not serve to change the behavior.
Sherry McCreedy August 19, 2012 at 08:28 PM
There's a key difference between "I'm disappointed in what you did" and "I'm disappointed in you." It's the difference being healthy guilt and shame. With guilt I hear, "I made a mistake". With shame I hear, "I AM a mistake". Healthy guilt opens a door to talk about what happened, the harm, and taking responsibility to make it right. People are not so interested in taking responsibility when the consequence is punishment for "being bad". On the other hand, taking responsibility increases dramatically when the consequence is an opportunity to make things right! Understanding who is harmed and how helps us figure out how to do that. Along with those directly harmed, there are community members harmed too. Ex: If I make fun of you, you're harmed and so are the people who see and hear me do it; if I steal your backpack, you're harmed and so are the people who now feel more uneasy about putting their backpacks down to go play at recess. We can't go back and undo something, but there is a way to try to make things right. The people involved know what to do! Ex: Say "hi" to you at school, watch your backpack when it's your turn to play, etc.) Sometimes an apology is enough. Could public shaming be trying to acknowledge harm to the community? Is it trying to make things right via public apology? Or is it forcing the message that the person is bad through punishment and intensifying the pain by doing it in front of others? I'd call that "bullying".
Julie Krommenhoek August 21, 2012 at 02:17 AM
I think determining what is effective, appropriate, or warranted for someone's else's kids is very hard to do. It depends on the kid and what else you did before you got to that point. With my oldest, simply verbalizing my disappointment in her poor choices would be enough. With the other two, I have had to do things I would never do to my oldest simply because nothing else works. I think it's important that the punishment fits the crime and the child, and I'm not comfortable saying what is appropriate or necessary for someone else's kids. And I didn't see the Southwest incident so I don't know the particulars, but I can say that I have seen many a kid behave much better during football season because their coach demands better behavior from them than their parents do and I have to applaud the coaches for that.
Sherry McCreedy August 21, 2012 at 03:50 PM
I agree that there are no one size fits all answers. It's the people who are impacted who have the best ideas about what to do to make it right, whatever their age. It's worth having a dialogue among everyone.


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