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 Shutterstock.com
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Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012
Last year, it was Tiger Mom parenting. This year, the French way. These books offer observations about different parenting styles and how we think they work. But what happens when we examine them scientifically and gauge how they actually affect children? To answer that question, I conducted an interview (via e-mail) with Dr. Desiree Qin, who is a professor at Michigan State University. Her program of research has been, in part, evaluating what we think of as “Tiger Mom” parenting behaviors, and as such, she brings an interesting – and empirically informed – perspective to the issue of being a “pushing” mom (or dad). Below you will find my questions (in bold) and her responses.
1) Much has been made of the “Tiger Mom” phenomenon over the past year. Do you think there are parents who really parent that way?
I think in some ways what was accounted in the book was a more extreme form of parenting characterized by high levels of expectations and demands combined with high levels of parental investment and involvement. I have heard of or seen in my personal or research experiences parents who resemble aspects of what Professor Chua described in the book. For example, parents who never praise children in public, have very high and strict expectations, use certain forms of emotional threats or punishment as a reaction to child’s occasional failure, and discourage participating in extracurricular activities that are not conducive to admission into an Ivy League university. In Chinese websites, there are phrases like “pushing mom” or “pushing dad” to refer to parents who have very high expectations of children’s educational success and will do everything they can to drive their children toward success.
2) It sounds like your research focuses on some of the negatives of parenting like a “Tiger Mom.” Could you define for us what aspects of parenting you look at? How do they affect kids negatively?
I started this line of research about 8 or 9 years ago, motivated by the lack of research and attention on Asian American children’s mental health behind the façade of the “model minority” stereotype and the lack of knowledge on the parts of their parents, teachers, counselors of any challenges they may experience in their psychosocial adjustment. So my work focuses on some of the traits one would associate with being a “Tiger Mom.”
Our findings suggest that when children receive more pressure and get pestered to achieve more than their peers, they report higher levels of conflicts, and less emotional warmth and closeness with their parents. Not surprisingly, they are less happy – indeed, they are more likely to be depressed, anxious and report lower self esteem. For the high-achieving Chinese American kids in our studies, family environment, parent-child relations and conflicts are the most important predictors of their mental health.
3) Are there implications from your research on how to promote achievement in kids without promoting stress, anxiety, and depression?
In one of my papers, I have examined two groups of high achieving children. One group was high achieving and distressed and the other group was high achieving but mentally healthy. And the key factor that distinguishes these two groups was parenting. More specifically, my findings in that paper shows that when parents from immigrant families become more flexible after migration, integrating aspects of Western parenting – such as spending more quality time with their children, and giving children more freedom – their children have better mental health outcomes than their peers. So I think again it’s not a problem for parents to have high expectations of children. When these expectations are communicated in a positive, support way, which does not damage or alienate parent-child relations, then children do not experience mental health problems.
4) Have you found any positives about “Tiger Mom” parenting?
If we define tiger parenting as authoritarian, super strict, and singularly focused on academics and achievements, our studies do not show much in the way of positive outcomes. That said, as a mother, I agree with Professor Chua that in many Western families, there is so much concern about children’s self esteem in that we constantly say “Great job!” and “Terrific!” to anything our children do. My children are currently attending a Montessori school and one thing I really like about the school and the teachers is that they never say “Great job.” Instead they comment on actual content of the kid’s work or the effort they have put into it.
5) Is there a parenting style that you would describe as being optimal? If so, what are the specific characteristics?
I think there may be an optimal middle point – we need to have high expectations and involvement, but it has to be well communicated in a loving and supportive family environment. And of course, each child is different and each family is different. We see very clearly in Professor Chua’s book that her two daughters are completely different, and while her approach worked well with one, it completely backfired with the other.
Image of tiger mom and cubs via Shutterstock.com
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