Insofar as I have been known to threaten my child with embarrassment for some of her more heinous crimes, I have never, in fact, posted a picture of her nasty room or the one of her wearing a mud mask, on any public forum. There are better, more amusing ways to humiliate your children. I have found that just talking to my daughter’s friends usually does the trick. If I want to step it up a notch all I have to do is ask questions of them. These questions do not even have to concern my child in any way. Threatening to speak to her friends or (gasp!) her friends’ parents is generally enough to get my kid back on the straight and narrow.
It never even occurred to me to demand she wander around wearing a sign about her neck advertising her failure to clean her room or to put the cap back on the toothpaste. Frankly, I don’t know how, short of having it surgically attached to her body, I would ever get her to wear such nonsense. She’s a tough cookie, is Fangette. She also has more than her fair share of self-respect — possibly more than is good for her, but it beats the alternative.
This new practice of forcing children to sport the modern-day equivalent of “The Scarlet Letter” just doesn’t sit right with me. It’s demeaning and hurtful. It is neither funny nor creative. I would also think that the only lesson learned by the victim is that whatever wrong they might commit, it’s best not to be found out. It fosters lying. It teaches subterfuge. Most importantly, this type of punishment breeds mistrust. Trust is integral to any successful relationship, especially the one between a parent and a child.
I have the idea that the people who enforce these punishments do so because they think it makes them appear strong or tough. It doesn’t. It screams, “I’m bigger than you. I have all the power. You are nothing.” It’s what bullies do. And we all know that bullies are inherently weak; they use their physical strength or their acid tongues to prey on their smaller, slower targets. Parents should not be bullies.
I have heard this type of discipline called “creative”. It’s not. Nor is it new. Public humiliation has been around as long as punishment has been required. Medieval lawmakers often sentenced petty criminals to spend time in the stocks. Such devices were placed in common areas. Onlookers were expected, even encouraged, to throw anything that could fit into their hands (rocks, rodents, excrement, rotten fruit) at the vagabond, the drunkard, or the wanton woman. This practice was still in use, even in America, until the late 19th Century.
No one would be the least bit amused if a child who engaged in behavior more befitting a gypsy, smoked a little dope, or sowed her sexual oats, were ensconced in a set of stocks erected in the front yard. People would, quite rightly, be up in arms. The parent would, no doubt, be brought up on charges. Other than the obvious difference — the physical element that being placed into stocks requires — why aren’t people characterizing this practice of humiliating children via social media as medieval?
If they are, I have seen no evidence of it. What I have seen is quite the opposite. These videos and still shots of Little Johnny wearing a sign that says, “I defied my mother and stayed out past curfew to run around with a bunch of hooligans. So, now I have to wear this sign.” have, in fact, gone viral — on Facebook, YouTube, and other similar outlets. Really, I just don’t get it.
If my unwillingness to whip up a dunce cap that says, “I got a ‘C’ in Calculus because having a social life was more important than school work!” and throw it up on Facebook makes me a bad parent — or, at the very least, a less creative one — so be it. The social stigma of obtaining a ‘C’ in an advanced math class may adversely affect Fangette’s G.P.A., but it won’t do any lasting damage to her self-esteem. Nor will our relationship suffer for it.