(Update: There seems to be some confusion…let me clarify, that ad above? I think that’s okay. No one is pictured and no one is publicly named. I merely used that image as an example simply because I refuse to use a picture of a kid holding a sign detailing their wrongdoing. I won’t contribute to the spread of online public shaming.)
We’ve all seen the pictures plastered all over the Internet…pictures of kids, tweens, and teens holding up signs that detail something they did wrong. Most of them are shared with an added “This is a GOOD parent”, “Maybe the crime rate would go down if every parent did this”, or something in a similar fashion. Well, no. Those publicly posted pictures are NOT good parenting. Before panties and boxers everywhere get all bunched up, hear me out, because I am actually all about holding our kids responsible for their actions.
When I was 13, I stole a necklace from a Sheetz out where my dad lives in PA, and I thought I’d gotten away with it, until the next day when my dad came up the lane (I had spent the night at the neighbor’s house, his daughter and I were friends) with a stony face. The manager of the Sheetz, rather than getting the police involved, had called my father and told him what had happened. My dad decided to turn it into a lesson in accountability. He took me back to that Sheetz and made me apologize to the manager. I was truly sorry, but I didn’t know how sorry I was about to be. I would come to wish my father had tanned my hide. As punishment, I had to write “I will never steal anything ever again”. Ten THOUSAND times. It was easy stuff at first, and it was all I did for about a month…but by day four, my hand would start to cramp and hurt terribly, to the point that I had to bite my lip to keep from crying. I completed my punishment, but to this day, I cannot write by hand for very long without my hand cramping painfully.
So yes, I believe in holding children responsible for the consequences of their actions. Apologizing to someone they wronged. Learning that actions have consequences that often reach wider than they think.
The Internet at any given time, has a population of hundreds of millions, maybe even billions. We all tell our kids and ourselves to be careful what we share online, because who knows where it will end up. As parents, we try to shield our kids from strangers/bad things/etc. for as long as we can. We set up parental controls so they can’t access certain sites. We limit their time online, restrict what they share/upload to the best of our ability.
So please tell me exactly what it is that makes it okay for a parent to snap a humiliating picture of their kid owning their misdeed and uploading it to the internet, where it can be seen by the exact people and elements that we try to protect them from? What makes it okay for a parent to tell their child “Thou shalt not share this or that” and then turn around and publicly humiliate their kid by uploading a picture of them holding a sign saying “I stayed out past curfew” or “I disrespect my parents”? Do any of these people read the types of comments that can be found on even the most innocent of pictures online? Pardon my French, but there are some real assholes online who comment things like “This is lame, go kill yourself”, even on articles about people who are doing good things. That picture of a cop giving a homeless man a new pair of boots? I saw many, many comments calling the homeless man a bum, saying the cop should have given him a bullet instead…these jerks love the internet because they can hide behind the anonymity of a keyboard and a username, say whatever they want, and face no consequences for their words. People say things online they’d never think of saying to your face, because you aren’t there in person to punch them in the mouth for it.
It’s one thing to snap a picture of your kid owning their misdeeds and, I dunno, throwing it on the fridge so the people who come into your home can see it (just don’t let anyone take a picture of it). It’s one thing to make your kid march next door to apologize to the neighbor for breaking a window with a baseball and offering to either pay for it or work off the cost of the window. It’s one thing to make your child apologize to a kid they’ve teased. It is a completely different story to spout off about how you want to protect your child’s identity/existence online, and then turn right around and post up a picture that captures them at a moment of shame and disgrace, where no matter how private you make things online, someone is going to be able to take that picture and spread it around. Doing that makes you a hypocrite. I hope all the “Likes” and “Shares” are worth it. I hope that those stupid pixels forming numbers on a screen make you feel better as a person. I hope that those virtual pats on the back give you the self-esteem that you take away from your child. It’s one thing to use a misdeed to teach your kid a valuable lesson. Posting a picture online isn’t the way. As parents, we are supposed to be firm, yet fair. We are supposed to use misbehavior and misdeeds as a stepping stone to build them up as people, not tear them down further.
It’s why I have never posted a picture of any of my kids that might be embarrassing to them. When my kids had a food fight, I didn’t post a picture of them holding a sign that said “We waste food because we don’t give a crap that there are starving children all over the world. We’re too busy taking what we have for granted”. They were shamed enough by my disappointment. It was the first time they’d done such a thing, but if they were to do it again, I would take them to a soup kitchen so that they could see that there are people in this world that do not have what they have. To teach them a lesson…about gratitude, and about compassion.
Publicly shaming your children to millions of people you don’t even know is wrong, and while it may teach them that they will be held publicly responsible for their actions, that lesson is momentary and fleeting. The real lesson they will learn from a public shaming is that it is okay to belittle people in public for every single mistake they make, no matter how insignificant. You’re teaching your kid that it’s okay to bully others who have made a mistake, and millions of strangers on the Internet will give them virtual pats on the back for it.