Humiliating Your Kids is Not a Valid Punishment

Don't be that person

When an Ohio dad 10 year-old daughter was suspended from the school bus after a second instance of bullying, he decided she needed to learn a lesson. Rather than keep her home, or drive her, he had her walk the eight kilometres to school. A cold day made for an unpleasant walk, but a 10 year-old is capable of walking that distance, and he drove behind her to ensure her safety as she made her way to school. According to the dad, the punishment worked and his daughter reportedly learned her lesson.

As is, I think this was a fantastic consequence for her actions. If you get kicked off the bus for bullying, be prepared to walk your own butt to school. I adore logical consequences and this is as logical a consequence as you can get. He didn’t make her run a track or do push-ups – he made her get her own self to school after her actions took away her usual route. Brilliant! And she was never in any danger, with her father providing constant supervision.

But he took it one step too far. He videotaped his daughter on her walk. Then he took it about fifty steps too far and posted it on the internet. This took the punishment out of the comfortable zone of logical consequence and put it into public humiliation territory. That is neither logical nor acceptable.

Whether or not he realized it would go viral, by placing his daughter’s punishment into the public domain he became a bully himself, and negated any lesson he was giving his daughter. She may have stated she learned her lesson, but really she also learned that humiliation is a powerful tool, and her father is willing to use it on her to get what he wants.

The dad wasn’t alone in this action. A quick internet search will show pages of parents filming themselves punishing their children under the guise of teaching their kids a lesson. Many of these punishments would be great punishments if they remained private. At best, filming it counter-acts a good lesson. Some of these punishments border on abuse even without the filming, and the filming makes a horrible punishment worse.

The responses from the parent filmmakers when these videos inevitably draw controversy are usually pretty similar. First, they defend their choice of punishment. It’s their child and they will parent how they like. Then, they will defend the filming as either part of the punishment (to see how it feels to be bullied for example), or so other parents can see an example of, “how to get kids in line.”

While the first explanation might be true – unless it involves abuse, parents should be able to parent how they choose – I call bullshit on the second excuse. These parents are filming it and posting it either for accolades (“Look at what a great parent I am for actually disciplining my child, unlike so many parents these days.”) or in hopes of going viral as so many of these videos do. That’s not child-rearing. That’s harming your child to gain attention for yourself – a sort of Munchausen by proxy of the digital age.

In some cases, the punishment isn’t filmed and put on the internet. Some parents will make their children wear a sign announcing their misdeed, or some other action meant to embarrass them into changing their behaviour. While better than putting it on the internet where it will stay forever, even showing up for potential employers, it’s still sending the wrong message to children.

Shame can be a learning opportunity, it’s true. If a child steals something from a store and is made to return it, that is a form of shame in a way. The lesson comes from the feelings of shame the child has while owning up to their mistake. But in this type of shame-lesson, the shame comes from inside the child themselves. It’s a logical consequence, having to right their own wrong, or admit their wrongdoing to the person they have harmed. It no doubt has a much longer-lasting effect than simply taking away TV for a week – but it isn’t humiliation.

The child feels shame, but is not being shamed by a parent or outside source. They are embarrassed and feel regret because of their actions, not because of their circumstances, and that is a good lesson. Placing them in a situation where an outside force creates the embarrassment or shame is not. There is a very real difference in the impact it makes on the child. One breeds a desire to do better. The other breeds self-hated and resentment.

When you see these punishment videos online; don’t share them. Don’t contribute to the further humiliation of these children. I have not linked to the video or used his daughter’s name in this article for this reason. By all means use logical consequences as many of these parents do, but put the phone away and resist the urge to use their punishment as a pat on the back for yourself. Your pat on the back will come when your child demonstrates that they have learned a valuable lesson while still respecting themselves and you.


Heather M. Jones is a mom of 2 from Toronto. When not writing, she can be found reading, worrying, and spending way too much time on Facebook.