A recent report explored the unnerving fact that more than 30,000 videos of child-shaming exist on the internet, and the growing trend is dismaying both experts and parents nationwide.
It can be challenging to land on the "right" way to discipline your child, based on their age, maturity level, misbehavior, and remorse, among other factors. And of course there are always going to be various schools of thought around the discipline strategies that are most effective. But there's one new disciplinary trend that is undoubtedly disturbing to many experts and parents alike: child-shaming by live streaming or recording video content that lives online. A recent feature in The Sun pointed to the fact that 30,000 clips like these exist on the internet and include horrifying examples such as parents driving over their children’s Xboxes, shaving their heads, or throwing their Christmas presents on the fire, before uploading videos of the act online.
In one particularly egregious, extreme case from 2015, a mom named Jessica Beagley forced her son to drink hot sauce for lying and then screamed at him while she made him take an ice-cold shower. In turn, Beagley was actually convicted of child abuse, given a suspended sentence and a $2,500 fine.
In another, which The Sun notes has wracked up 45 million views, a father responds to his daughter's Facebook post by shooting her laptop as punishment. Underneath the clip, he wrote: "Maybe a few kids can take something away from this… If you’re so disrespectful to your parents and yourself as to post this kind of thing on Facebook, you’re deserving of some tough love. ... Today, my daughter is getting a dose of tough love."
One more recent example that stirred debate online involved a dad making his son run in the rain after he was kicked off the bus for bullying.
How Parents Feel About Child-Shaming Online
Many parents are quick to condemn this form of discipline. "Shaming and bullying/humiliating a child is never okay. Period," Gabby Gamble, a mom of two from Champaign, Illinois, says. "As an adult, how would you feel if your boss screamed at you in front of 100+ employees and berated you about how bad you are?"
Danielle Joyce, a mom of two from Phoenix, Arizona, notes, "I don’t agree with humiliating your child publicly as a form of discipline. This might make a temporary change in behavior, but in the long-term, I fear mistrust and anger towards their parents. We are putting things out there without their consent while expecting them to respect our authority as their parent. We are not their friends as a parent, we are the people teaching them to make good choices."
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Others feel like there may be a time and place for a particular form of this disciplinary tactic. Angela Hawkins, a mom of three from Houston, Texas, point outs that parents may document kids' punishments online as a way to connect and feel less alone. "When it comes to filming children’s punishments, it’s almost like a cry for attention for the parents—as if they need someone to give them a big hug and tell them that they are not alone, that other people have been there, and that they are doing a good job," she shares. "I don’t think the bulk majority of parents are filming their children to 'child-shame' as much as I think they’re filming their children in an attempt to gain support."
That's the mindset Hawkins had when she filmed her daughter's temper tantrum and posted it online. "I was desperate to connect with other parents because I was positive that something was seriously wrong with my child," she shares. "Filming and posting the episode gave other parents the opportunity to chime in with their advice as to how to prevent those episodes and how to handle them when they could not be prevented." She adds that over the years she has learned to trust her own parenting instincts and relies on strangers less, so she is not likely to post these kinds of videos online again.
What the Experts Say About the Phenomenon
Child psychologists and parenting experts warn against using shame or humiliation to discipline children, no matter the situation. Child-shaming online could potentially lead to "low self-esteem and crippling self-doubt," explains Karyl McBride, Ph.D., LMFT, author of Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers. "The child is learning to mistrust others and their own feelings, causing a child to feel like a failure and a bad person."
Parents who lean on this form of discipline would do well to step up communication, points out Bela Sood, M.D., child and adolescent psychiatrist with Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU and Virginia Treatment Center for Children. "When I see parents resorting to these types of punishments, it signals a breakdown in communication," Dr. Sood notes. "In other words, it shows a parent’s inability to convey their sense of expectations to the child. Making a child feel ashamed can further damage the relationship and hinder the child’s ability to build positive self-efficacy and self-confidence in the long-term."
She also says humiliating kids to address misbehavior is bad enough without the social media component, but "broadcasting the videos for the world to see only showcases the parent’s own bad behavior."
Children are already exposed to social media shaming and emotional bullying from peers—the last thing they need is their parents or an adult perpetuating that shame, said Doug Newton, MD, Kaiser Permanente child and adolescent psychiatrist in Colorado. “Kids will try to emulate that behavior and they may use social media to embarrass or shame their friends or school classmates.”
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Dr. McBride recommends swapping shaming with empathy. "If we want to raise good people, we need to parent with empathy," she explains. "Children need to be seen, heard, and validated. When they make a mistake, they need to be taught that we all make mistakes, and we can learn from them."
Ultimately, Dr. McBride believes "parenting should be about teaching, guiding, loving and modeling kind, empathic behavior towards others." Not only is shaming and humilitating children "emotionally abusive," but it "teaches them to be bullies and mean to others." Any form of discipline that backfires in that way sounds best avoided.