A mother grabs her son out of a group of youths rioting against police, and hits him, proud of her actions as photos and videos appear all over the media and the world. Another mother posts online about how she made her child apologise for being rude to an adult in the movies, whom the mother tracked down using social network. Parents hang placards around their children’s necks reading, ‘I’m a bully,’ and make them stand on street corners while they post photos on Facebook. Other parents applaud these parents and treat them as heroes for doing the “right thing and showing their children whose boss.” While initially we may feel a sense of approval at justice being served and the underdog being vilified, the actions of these parents are not okay for several reasons.
The family and especially your parents should be where a child feels unconditionally loved. It should be a safe place a child can go to with his problems and feelings, receiving acknowledgement and support. When parents punish children publicly they betray the precious bond between parent and child. This can be extremely painful for the child, leaving him feeling alone in the world and overwhelmed with feelings of shame. Gershen Kaufman, a clinical psychologist and author of several books on shame states that “Shame is the most disturbing experience individuals ever have about themselves; no other emotion feels more deeply disturbing because in the moment of shame the self feels wounded from within.” A wounded child is not considering how he can improve his behaviour. He is thinking of how he can survive without being wounded again. Fear keeps him in a state of heightened anxiety, so he is not shamed again. The scar left will never really heal. He will remember how he was wounded when he is an adult 40 years later, and his ability to trust others may be impacted negatively.
Punishing your child publicly opens them up to being bullied. Everyone in their community, as well as strangers now knows what they did and who they are. They may be ostracised or teased for their behaviour. It could lead to feelings of loneliness and depression, and possibly even suicide at being humiliated publicly. For teens where identifying with a group becomes more important than the family, being shunned by their peers could mean that in their anger they may turn to gangs or alcohol and drugs to try to make themselves feel better. If their negative behaviour was reported to the parent by a sibling, announcing their behaviour publicly could be pitting siblings against each other, which could have long lasting negative implications. Parents also need to consider what kind of behaviour they are role modelling. In their quest to do the right thing and teach their child a lesson are they in fact bullying their child?
Most children do not want their parents sharing their pictures anecdotes or achievements with others, especially as they get older, and particularly do not want their parents sharing their negative behaviour online. A child’s right to privacy and protection should be respected, as they are people as well. Posting negative comments and pictures of adults online could lead to defamatory accusations and law suits. Most people would think twice before posting a negative comment about another adult, yet feel it is acceptable to post any information about their child. Information posted online is there for life and could cause on-going embarrassment well into their adult years. Professor Julie E Cohen of Georgetown University states that, “Privacy is shorthand for breathing room to engage in the process of self-development.” Children need privacy to develop their own identity. If we continually interfere with this privacy we may unwittingly be interfering with their self-perception.
Children should have the opportunity to make mistakes and learn from their mistakes, without being disgraced publicly. Teenagers are experiencing changes in the prefrontal cortex of their brain, which is the part of the brain associated with reasoning, abstract thinking, and self –consciousness, so the decisions they make may not always be the wisest especially in the company of their peers. While children and teens should be accountable for their behaviour, and should be encouraged to apologise or make amends, especially if they have hurt other people, they do not however, need a record of their mistakes online. The questions we should be asking as parents is how did my child get to a point where he thinks it is acceptable to riot against police, or why is my child a bully? How can I as a parent guide and support my child to become the kind of adult both he and I can be proud of? In the wise words of Virginia Satir: “Feelings of worth can flourish only in an atmosphere where individual differences are appreciated, mistakes are tolerated, communication is open, and rules are flexible – the kind of atmosphere that is found in a nurturing family.”
By Claire Marketos