Posts Tagged ‘ acting-out ’

Shaming Kids In Public: A Good Or Bad Idea?

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.

Naming and Shaming via


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Nuture And Nature Both Shape Acting-Out Behaviors

Monday, May 23rd, 2011

Genetics gets more than it’s fair share of attention these days. This isn’t a bad thing — except that it seems like studies that focus on the environment don’t get the same play. So here’s one recent paper you should know about.

Drs. S. Alexandra Burt and colleagues studied acting-out behaviors in adoptive and biological adolescent sibling pairs. Siblings and their parents were videotaped while being asked to talk about two topics (one focused on the meaning of a Rorschach inkblot, the other on what to make of a moral dilemma). The idea was to see how teens behaved during conversations with their parents and their brother or sister, especially ones that could promote differences of opinion. Observers later viewed the videotapes and rated a number of acting-out behaviors for each adolescent, including things like getting angry, talking back, and whining.

The key thing about having adoptive and biological siblings is that it provided a method for inferring the role of genes and the role of environment. Here’s how it works. The researchers used a statistical method to see how similar each sibling pair was on the rated acting-out behaviors. In other words, if one sibling used a lot a acting-out behaviors, how likely was the other sibling to do the same?  If genetics was the only factor that influenced sibling similarity, then the adoptive siblings should, on average, not resemble each other very much (so that one sibling acting out a lot wouldn’t be associated with the other sibling doing the same). If genes did not play a role, then biological siblings should not be, on average, more similar in their acting-out behaviors than adoptive siblings.

Using this approach, Dr. Burt and colleagues found evidence that supported roles for both nature and nurture. Biological siblings were more similar than adoptive siblings, suggesting that genes do indeed make a contribution. However, adoptive siblings were also similar in their acting-out behaviors (at a statistically signifcant level), suggesting environmental influence independent of whatever role genetics may play.

These results are important for parents to consider because they remind us that although genes contribute to behavioral development, nature isn’t the only thing that matters. In my next post, I’ll discuss some of the environmental factors that may lead to acting-out behavior — and what parents can do about them.

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