Parents Are Posting TikToks Disciplining Their Kids But Experts Say It Does More Harm Than Good
One of the latest trends to sweep TikTok features a new form of public kid-shaming. Here's why it doesn't work and actually can be incredibly harmful.
Figuring out the best way to get through to a tween or teen who's determined not to do their chores can be tough for any parent. But in an attempt to shame their kids into good behavior, some parents are resorting to a dangerous trend: disciplining their kid on camera and then posting the clip to TikTok.
There have been a bevy of examples on the app recently. One mom posted a clip of her kids scrubbing floors as a punishment for fighting. And in another TikTok that went viral, a dad swears at his daughter and smashes her laptop because she had it in bed with her while she was supposed to be sleeping. Another father, who The Wall Street Journal identified as 27-year-old Derek Hensley from West Virginia, smashed his daughter's TV with his guitar because she was playing video games while she was supposed to be cleaning her room.
Several of the parents, including Hensley, have claimed that these videos were staged. But there are still consequences. Someone reported Hensley to his local child protective services department. The dad told WSJ, "I'm upset that I had to put my kids through that."
While parents might believe that shaming their children publicly on social media might be an effective way to correct misbehavior, research proves otherwise. Writing in the journal Pediatrics, researchers note that aversive disciplinary methods like shaming kids are minimally effective in the short-term and not effective in the long term.
Melanie Pearl, a licensed and nationally certified school psychologist in Ridgefield, Connecticut, explains, "It leads to fractured relationships and decreases in self-esteem, and can actually encourage a child to become sneakier with their behaviors. So, it's not that your kid won't repeat the behavior that has upset you; it's that next time they'll be better at hiding it, which can cause increasingly more serious problems as they get older."
So what would compel someone to punish their children in this way? "Parents who make these videos, when they aren't staged, are being reactive rather than proactive in their discipline," says Pearl. "They are responding to their own frustration that the child isn't following a direction."
Pearl points out that parents might be thinking something like, "I'll teach my child not to disrespect me" or "I'll show them who's in control here." And then when they post to social media, they are seeking validation. "Though they might receive critical comments for the video, they are also likely to receive some kudos from other parents, which just increases the chances that they'll do it again," says Pearl.
But none of this can make for a positive end result. "You have a parent who has shown they have a hard time regulating their own behavior, which isn't a great model for the kid," says Pearl. "You have a kid who is scared and ashamed. You've got a strain on the parent-child relationship. You've just made things harder in your household without realizing it."
Staging TikToks featuring gasp-worthy discipline techniques isn't any better. That just adds a whole other aspect of confusion to the interaction, particularly for younger children, says Pearl. "Though the parent might be very clear that the video is 'just for fun,' the child may be going along with the idea to please the parent but may actually be quite confused and afraid," she notes.
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And there's an exploitative element as well, as the parent is using the child for laughs, follows, income, etc., says Pearl. This can set a dangerous precedent for a young person's future relationships. "We don't want to be teaching our children that it's okay for someone to exploit you as long as you're in a relationship with them or as long as they tell you they love you," she notes. "That's not a belief we want kids carrying into adulthood."
The bottom line: Although it can be hard to remain calm when a kid is misbehaving, it's important to do so—and to apologize should you lose your temper—because the ideal way to discipline is calmly and logically with love and respect, ensuring that consequences follow naturally from an infraction, says Pearl.
"We need to be constantly striving for much more 'correction with connection' than punishment," says Pearl. "We need to try to view misbehaviors as learning opportunities. We want our kids to grow to understand why they choose certain behaviors, not blindly comply because they are afraid of being hurt or shamed."