Parenting is challenging. As your children grow so do the parenting challenges. Sure we still worry about small problems like minding manners and personal hygiene but more complex and dangerous issues are heading right for us, drinking, drugs, dating, and other issues too numerous to name.
It’s always been my belief that the groundwork laid earlier in childhood will come to bear at this time. I hope I’m right because we are moving into dangerous territory, high school. When the kids were younger we tried to treat them with respect while establishing boundaries of acceptable behavior. I’ll admit we were lucky that neither of the kids had any sustained behavioral issues and, for the most part, never gave us any real challenge to our parental authority. Maybe that’s why our parenting style is more relaxed. Perhaps our parenting is more a reaction to their personalities rather than us imposing our will over them.
I bring this up because there is a growing movement of parents who are using public shaming as punishment for their teens and it really disturbs me, not just as a parent, but also as a person.
If you’re not aware of this trend let me take you through it: Teens are doing stupid and potentially dangerous things and their parents are forcing them to stand on street corners holding signs announcing to the world what they had done. A girl in Florida was made to hold a sign saying that she sneaks boys into her room and disrespects her parents and grandparents. There is the twelve year-old boy that had to hold a sign announcing, “I’m a thief”. There are more examples but you get the point.
From the time our kids are old enough they are bombarded with anti-bullying messages and workshops that teach inclusion and problem-solving. We teach them the dangers of over-sharing information on social media sites and how to guard their privacy from strangers but, when push comes to shove, we are more than willing – eager – to encourage parents to put their teens on street corners to shout their transgressions to the world. Not only is it a form of bullying, it is ugly and it is cruel and it should be condemned loudly and often.
As upset that I am with the parents who think that the public shaming of children is acceptable, I’m shocked at how much support these parents have from other adults. Honestly, shocked. I know that parenting is hard and dealing with teens is at times a thankless and tiring task. However, I keep coming back to one question: How do you justify humiliating a child as a parenting technique?
I don’t pretend to know what goes on in other families. What stresses they have or where their breaking points lie. Hell, there are days I don’t even know my own. However, I do know, from my own experience as a teen, that teens can be brutal and ugly and mean. That does not give parents license to debase them. For as tough and posturing as they can be they are also incredibly fragile and vulnerable. It is when they are at their worst that they need us to be at our best.
What happens if public shaming doesn’t work?
What comes next? Public stockades? Flogging? Scarlet letters? An eye for an eye?
Barbara Mulvey-Welsh is a mother, writer and blogger raising kids and a husband in Plymouth. Check out her blog at "Did I Say That Out Loud?" Use caution when reading around the family, there is some strong language.