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Crazy Parent Punishments: Does Humiliation Work?

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humiliationFrom a YouTube video of a dad shooting his daughter’s laptop to a Florida teacher putting post-op dog “cone-of-shame” collars around the necks of tardy students, tales of extreme punishments fly across the Internet on a weekly basis. Although humiliation punishments like the eight-year-old carrying a sandwich board in front of her school proclaiming that she “likes to steal” or the teen on the busy corner with an “I Am Dum” sign (a result of an unfortunate report card) seem to clearly cross a line, other parents’ creative attempts to nip teen drinking, bullying or disrespect in the bud with a healthy dose of humility spark watercooler debates and waves of online comments, and many rake in support from other parents and caretakers.

Proponents of these unorthodox methods claim that parents and caretakers are left with few options when it comes to punishment. Kids are too old for timeouts, physical punishments are clearly off the table and the only reasonable response left to outright disrespect or deliberate and willful flaunting of the rules is grounding or losing privileges.  If the behavior continues even after they’ve nixed parties or outings with friends or taken away phones and social media, frustration drives them to think outside the box to come up with something that will make a serious impact. Lately, the parental “weapon” of choice in these situations seems to be exploiting the one thing kids fear most – embarrassment.

Not so fast, say experts. While many messages of sympathy and support are seen by fellow caretakers (or community members not eager to be on the receiving end of escalating bad behavior), those who truly understand the way young people’s brains work seem to come to the same conclusion about these public humiliation punishments: they just don’t work.

“Teaching kids to be respectful includes treating them with respect,” says Annie Fox, M.Ed., teen/tween expert and parenting author of Teaching Kids to be Good People.  “Disrespect is a boomerang.”

When kids compare extreme punishments to those their peers receive for similar offenses, they might feel singled out and treated unfairly by their parents, which can create feelings of resentment and damage the relationship. This could lead to further acting out, which results in a no-win power struggle.

Alternatively, experts caution that these out-of-the-norm acts could leave a mark on the teen’s self-esteem and add to depression, anxiety or isolation. A child could feel personally rejected by their own support system, giving them the sense that no one is in their corner and that they lack self-worth. Add to that the potential that the embarrassing punishment itself could lead to teasing and bullying within the child’s social circle and it might very well result in a dangerously alienated young person.

Proactively setting clear rules with clear consequences takes away any sense of a personal attack. It lets the punishment be something decided in advance when clear heads are unclouded by anger, fear or frustration. It can even be a contract or document created together using positive language that engages the child and allows them to take ownership of their decisions. Should they choose to make bad decisions, the resulting penalty will be objective and something they are able to anticipate – after all, it’s in writing!

A supportive environment creates opportunity for communication and realistic expectation levels on both sides. It allows the child to let parents or caretakers in on personal struggles, whether its friends’ rules being more lax than their own household or difficulties with grades and maintaining too challenging of a course load at school, and solutions can be discovered before things reach a breaking point.

Most importantly, it offers a way to teach and grow respect – a true end goal for anyone’s household.


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