Thursday, June 13th, 2013
Shaming kids in public has become a parenting trend. You’ve seen the stories. Kids forced by their parents to stand in public holding some kind of sign indicating a wrongdoing. It could be that they stole. It could be that they were disrespectful. But the bottom line is that some parents believe that these kind of humiliating moments – or instances of tough love – may have enough impact to change their kid’s behavior for the better.
So … is this a good or bad idea? While I contend that it’s a bad idea, let’s walk through some of the more subtle points.
We typically hear of stories in which parents are extremely frustrated with their kids. Some are afraid that their kids will get into deep trouble. They feel like they have run out of options and don’t know what else to do. So I understand that they are ready to do something. I’ve seen them in many of my own research studies and have also seen them in juvenile court and understand that they want a solution.
But I suggest that a public shaming is not the corrective measure they are looking for. Will it shock a kid in the short term? Maybe. Will it fundamentally change all of the factors that led to the persistent troubling behavior in the first place? Probably not. And that’s the point.
In practice, and in research, you will find kids with all kinds of problems. Acting out, stealing, lying, cheating. Using drugs and drinking. Being disrespectful. It really begins to hit when they hit the early teens. In order to take on these kinds of behaviors, it’s necessary to work with parents and their kids – using methods that have been proven to work across decades of research – to improve three core parenting skills:
Monitoring: Really knowing who your kid hangs out with and what they do – so you can prohibit or change their patterns of behavior when you see warning signs of trouble. This leads us to ….
Limit Setting: Making sure your kid understands the boundaries you set and learning effective methods for applying them with consistency. This only happens by improving ….
Communication: How many arguments would you imagine a parent has had with a child before resorting to shaming kids in public? Would you anticipate that their dynamics revolve around yelling and screaming at each other? Many times it will. Parents and kids need to learn techniques for improving their level of communication with each other. And parents need to develop communication skills that help them shape their kid’s behavior by being authoritative and not authoritarian.
None of these skills come easily or quickly. They take dedicated effort on the part of parents, kids, and their practitioner. But putting in this kind of effort over time can change behavior – over the long term and not just temporarily.
Frustrated parents and kids who are acting out are realities. It’s agreed that parents in these situations need some type of recourse to right the ship. It can be suggested that public shaming teaches kids about power structures and coercive behavior and teaches much less about learning rules and morality and empathy. What’s really required is that parents and kids have an opportunity to work together to improve their relationship so that parents can be more effective on a daily basis and not feel the need to resort to drastic measures that may not have long-term benefits.
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