Thursday, June 11, 2015

Facebook Parenting

When you talk to people about disciplining children these days, especially people around my age, you get what sounds like an old man rant. "In my day," they say, "kids didn't run around and disobey their parents. They didn't talk back or else they got slapped and beat and spanked and they never did it again. If I had done even half the things these kids today do, I wouldn't be here." Thinking back to my childhood, I don't remember a whole lot of instances of homicide used in child rearing, but I do remember some rude and out of control children. Today's parents complain that children run amok, and in the same breath complain that the law has taken away their best disciplinary tool, spanking. So, apparently, the new alternative to corporal punishment is public humiliation, as if that's far less damaging to the child.

You know the situations I'm talking about. It's the Facebook post of the picture of the son going to school with his hair cut like an old man, or the video of him getting the haircut. Or it could be the posts of the girl walking the streets around her neighborhood wearing a sandwich board detailing her crimes for the community. Because of the involvement of the local community as well as the online community, the exposure and humiliation are almost exponentially more than a simple spanking or verbal discipline in the store around strangers. Furthermore, the new trend seems to be the embarrassing haircut, which means that the humiliation goes on and on for days and even weeks on end.

It seems as if I've seen these videos popping up in my Facebook feed with increasing frequency over the last two or three years, but I don't know exactly when this thing started. When did we decide that modern forms of discipline weren't enough, and we were going back to using the stocks and the crosses again?

One thing I decided for my family, from the time that my first child was born, was that no punishment or discipline would ever have a component of humiliation in it. That doesn't mean I never discipline them in public, but we never make a show of it. Just a couple of weekends ago, we had to correct the baby at Magic Kingdom, in line, at the Dumbo ride. So I put her on a little time out right there in the line. But nobody saw us yelling at the child or embarrassing her. All anyone saw was a calm father handling family business in a discreet way. All I wanted was to correct the behavior, knowing that if it goes uncorrected at any time for any reason, the result is a setback in her training.

And that's the thing - what do these parents want? What is the end game? I hear many of them saying on the videos that they've tried everything, but it's hard to believe that consistent and competent parenting has led to the craziness I'm seeing on YouTube. And in most cases, the child's behavior really does demand a quick and forceful response. But what result are they getting from this big show? If the child is using drugs, do they really stop wanting to get high because they have a jacked up haircut now? If your daughter is getting too close to boys, does her new-found source of low self-esteem drive her away from the loving arms of her male classmates, or right into them?

Just a couple of weeks ago, a thirteen year old girl in Washington was the subject of one of these videos. Her father hacked off her long black hair and posted the video of her with her new haircut on her Facebook page. He never does state in the video why she deserves this humiliation, but by the sound of his voice, he seems pretty pleased with himself. From what I can gather from the reports about the story, it was an issue that I would have dealt with by restricting her access to media a little and giving her a pep talk. I'm not sure exactly what his end game was, but the result was that after a few days with her new style, she jumped off a bridge into highway traffic.

Eyewitness reports to her suicide differ slightly, but one thing they all agree on is that she jumped "without hesitation." She didn't pause at the edge to think about it. She didn't look back, hoping that someone would stop her. She didn't stand up on the barrier as a cry for help. I can only assume that she either didn't want or didn't expect any help.

Embarrassing a child by fussing at her in the front yard or swatting his butt in the supermarket is one thing, and may be necessary at times. Creating elaborate schemes to humiliate a child in the most effective way, with the broadest audience possible, is completely over the edge. Just consider, it's the kind of thing that becomes public scandal when it's done to prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. In other words, it's the kind of treatment that we won't tolerate for terrorists and other prisoners of war, but somehow has become acceptable for our children, our own flesh and blood.

Everything we do as parents, including discipline and punishment, has got to be focused on the goal of building them up and training them to be better people. Anything that we do to tear them down damages them and defames us. After I watch any of these videos, honest to goodness, I always wonder why the parents aren't the ones who are ashamed of themselves, instead of the children.

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