Your Public Punishments Aren't Discipline, They Are Abuse

by Caila Smith
Originally Published: 
Julia Meslener for Scary Mommy, SanyaSM/Getty, Jatniel Tunon/Unsplash and NeONBRAND/Unsplash

Have you seen the ever-circulating photo of the young boy walking through Wal-Mart with a poster-board hanging from his front and back side reading: “I’m a liar?” Or maybe you haven’t witnessed that, but have you ever scrolled through your Facebook’s news feed and felt complete shock as you watched a viral video of a child being publicly punished with a caption reading something like, “‘Serves them right?” If not, then I’m sure you’ve been well-acclimated to some sort of poor social media stunt where a parent posts their child’s punishment online.

Since when did this become the norm?

I don’t care that little Susie bit you for the umpteenth time so now she’s sitting in her room sobbing while you take a photo. Good for you for parenting your child, but I could do without seeing you scold your own daughter and uploading it to YouTube.

Tommy is sass-mouthing again and you feel he’s “too old for this shit?” Great, but I’m good without seeing photos of his nose in the corner, tears streaming down his face almost as thick as his running snot, while he holds heavy books over the top of his head with the caption reading, “Raising them up right.”

No. Wrong. I feel sorry for your kids, and your behavior leaves me with a heavy, distasteful and sinking feeling in my gut.

This needs to stop. Not for me, not for the sanctimommies of the world, not for the parents who don’t believe in punishment, and not even for your own reputation, but for your child. Because there is no reason to post your child’s punishment online unless you are seeking some type of online approval or affirmation from others.

“You go, dad.”

“You are doing what’s right, mama.”

“We need more parents like you.”

Well, I hope these folks don’t expect a virtual hug or a solidarity pat on the back from me for the way they publicly display their kids’ punishments online. Because this is a poor judgment call at best and shame-laden abuse at worst. And now, it’s been posted and made readily available for all the world to see for many years to come.

“When I see parents resorting to these types of punishments, it signals a breakdown in communication,” Bela Sood, M.D., child and adolescent psychiatrist at Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU and Virginia Treatment Center for Children tells Parents. “In other words, it shows a parent’s inability to convey their sense of expectations to the child. Making a child feel ashamed can further damage the relationship and hinder the child’s ability to build positive self-efficacy and self-confidence in the long-term.”

This public punishment via social media is severely damaging to young children and the bond between these kids and their parents. Not to mention, this is a complete and utter abuse of power on the guardian’s end. To the child who knows this is happening and is being scolded from not only the parents, but now strangers online, it’s torture. They have no way to end it, and it’s caused by the hands of someone who is supposed to protect them.

And it’s sickening that mothers and fathers are acting out against their children in ways that we wouldn’t want if we happened to make a mistake. We don’t screw up at our jobs, go home, then eagerly wait for the company to publicly make an announcement on Facebook about it. There’s no live-streaming humiliation… our consequences are handled in private (usually). And that’s more than enough for most people to strive toward a more driven-path of personal growth.

Humiliating and shaming anyone, let alone a child, is not constructive parenting. It is emotional abuse, and the effects can be devastating to the child (e.g. anxiety, depression, guilt, chronic pain, insomnia and loneliness).

Sometimes kids are just being kids in their regular, pain-in-the-rear type of state. Believe it or not, they have really horrendous days, like us, and they act out negatively because of it. But on the other hand, certain children have more bubbling beneath the surface than the full-out explosion that meets the naked eye. Some kids have undiagnosed autism, Sensory Processing Disorder, anxiety, ADHD, ADD, etc., and it’s not okay to publicly berate them for what we may not understand just yet.

It’s 2019, and our technological advancements are nothing short of booming. What is spoken, shared, posted and recorded online is staying online. Facebook has been around for over 15 years, and folks can still access their more than a decade-old posts and photos. Hell, we even have our “Timehop” add-on which gives us a notification for it all.

It may not happen now, it may not happen even a decade from now for some of us, but our kids will have social media one day. So if it’s not enough that public punishment causes harm onto the child in the present, maybe it will be enough that there’s potential for further damage in the future — at a time when they are older and wiser and able to form their own opinions on the matter.

It’s betrayal. It’s embarrassing. And it’s an outright slap in the face.

Because when we haven’t met someone, an opinion isn’t formed against them unless that said-opinion has been swayed. But by posting a child’s punishment, caused from and displaying something that they did at their very worst, these kids aren’t being given a fighting chance. These mothers and fathers are negatively persuading another’s opinion about their child, without full knowledge of who that someone might be to their kid(s) in the years to come.

We have no idea who will see these posts. A future boss, a potential boyfriend or girlfriend’s parents, a teacher, a coach, etc. In a world where so many are unforgiving, it is our job as parents to protect our children, even in their wrongdoings. It is our prerogative to teach them how to make these wrongs right without the an audience, even when they are being the most ginormous assholes. But it is not our duty to “out” them for the way they behaved at their very worst.

Give them time while you stay kind. Humans screw up. And, newsflash, little humans screw up even more. They are still learning how to live this life, and we are their example. Do it right and to the best of their ability… even in our kids most treacherous moments, we are here to give them grace.

So please, if you can’t do your kids this courtesy, don’t expect me to hold your hand and caress your troubled head while you publicly punish your child online.

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