I’ve been getting two diametrically opposed types of comments and messages lately. The first is people pointing my attention to various articles, stories and posts about things that they know I’ll disagree with parenting-wise, and that they hope I’ll write about. I appreciate that because 1) it’s humbling to think anyone would want my opinion about anything at all, and 2) if I’m going to write about parenting, I need to constantly keep up with what’s going on. The other, people telling me that I’m focusing too much on negatives, and should just worry about my own family, is appreciated as well (if it’s done somewhat kindly) because it keeps me balanced and in check. No one wants to read a constant barrage of bitter diatribes, and I get that.
But I can’t keep quiet about this trend of parenting by humiliating your child on Facebook. I can’t. And what’s bothering me just as much as these stories themselves, is the number of people who don’t seem to see anything wrong with it.
Because there is something wrong with it.
You all saw the video of the dad shooting his daughter’s laptop. Since then, it’s seemed to have spawned a dozen copycats. There was the mom who edited her daughter’s profile picture with a big, red X over her mouth when she didn’t like the girl’s language, accompanied with the text, “I do not know how to keep my [mouth shut]. I am no longer allowed on Facebook or my phone. Please ask why.” There was the dad who posted a picture of his son, crying, with a board around his neck that read, “I lied to my family.” More recently, there was a mom who punished her (underage) daughter for posting a picture with alcohol in it by photographing her – again, crying- while holding a sign reading, “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.” And many more in between.
(*I purposely did not provide the links, but they are unfortunately easily found through Google.*)
So what’s the problem? Well, setting aside the obvious issue of hypocrisy… Since you can’t use the internet appropriately, I’ll model appropriate use for you by using it to shame and humiliate my offspring (??)… there is the both deeper and more basic matter of how we treat each other:
Purposely and publicly humiliating someone you love is not a nice thing to do.
Have you ever been really humiliated? It’s not just embarrassment. Humiliation hurts. I remember once in high school, someone took a… compromising, I guess you’d say… photo of a classmate at a party, taped it to piece of paper with some biting commentary, and somehow got it behind the glass in the trophy display case. By the time an administrator could come with a key, it had been seen and laughed at by half the school. Another time, there was a school play, and there was one scene where the stage was occupied by a lone girl giving a monologue. She was not a member of any of the “popular” cliques, and she was overweight… both of which made her an easy target for bullies. The auditorium was silent as she paused between lines, and in the silence came a loud and projecting voice in the audience that shouted, “How Now, Brown Cow?” Some people laughed, some were stunned with sympathy, and the girl ran off the stage in tears.
In both of those cases, the one doing the humiliating was not a trusted friend but just another person in a sea of classmates. The humiliation took place in front of 50, maybe 100, people. How much worse would it feel to be humiliated by a parent who loves you, someone you’re supposed to be able to go to with your problems, someone you’re supposed to be able to trust? How much worse would it feel to not only have it shared with your friends and family, but to have it broadcast to thousands, to tens of thousands, to tens of millions all across the internet? To have it splashed about as though it were entertainment? Do you think that this child is going to turn to their parent the next time they’re struggling with something?
No good can come to a relationship from such an incredible breach of trust. Would it work in terms of changing the child’s behavior? Possibly… although I’d argue that it’d be just as likely to backfire and actually increase the behavior in an act of rebellion. And I don’t know about you, but I never want my kids to behave in a certain way just for the sake of behaving, or out of fear of what my next public punishment might be. Whenever I’m faced with a question of how to proceed with my kids, I ask myself if my chosen course of action will bring us closer together or pull us further apart. What matters to me most is our relationship, and the knowledge that when they do encounter a hurdle or a problem or a stumbling block or a mistake (and they will, because they’re human) that they’ll feel they can come to me, and that I’ll listen.
Before I get the cries of, “Who the hell are you to judge these families?? You don’t know what kind of problems they have. You don’t know what goes on inside their house…” That’s correct. I don’t know. I don’t pretend to know. In fact, I have a lot of compassion for these families, because they’re obviously a) at a very desperate place in their parenting journey, or b) don’t know that there are alternatives… both of which are sad situations to be sure. I once received an email from someone who was certain I was going to judge her, because she’d called the cops on one of her teenaged children who was abusing drugs. And another who’d actually had to kick a child out of her house in order to keep peace within the home. And here’s the thing: I’ve never dealt with either of those issues. I don’t know what that’s like, and I could never say with certainty how I would or would not handle it.
I will say this though: there is a big difference between privately being a catalyst for help, for doing what you need to do to keep your children and/or family members safe; and very publicly and purposely humiliating your child in the name of “discipline.”
Despite what this barrage of current stories might tell you, “parenting” over Facebook is not cool, it’s not funny, and it’s not helpful. But more than any of the above, it’s just not nice.