Photo via Facebook
Talk about a bad hair day. One barber has started offering a free haircut for misbehaving kids that he calls the Benjamin Button Special. A fitting title, since it makes little kids look like old men.
Russell Frederick, the co-owner of A-1 Kutz outside Atlanta and a father of three, told the Washington Post on Tuesday that he gave his 12-year-old son the cut last fall when his grades fell. After the new look, Frederick said, the boy’s grades quickly skyrocketed.
The haircut emulates the look of a balding man, shaving off the crown of the head and keeping it on the sides and in back. On the A-1 Kutz Facebook page, the barbershop shares its reasoning for this unusual brand of discipline: “So you wanna act grown… now you can look grown too,” says the caption next to a picture of the unlucky Benjamin Button recipient that was posted last week.
So far, according to Frederick, A-1 Kutz has only had one taker besides his own son — a single mom looking for a punishment after her 10-year-old acted up at school. “There are a few people that are saying it’s emotional abuse,” Frederick told the Washington Post. “But on average, everyone is applauding the mother that brought the child in — and applauding me as well.”
But Amy McCready, author of If I Have to Tell You One More Time and founder of PositiveParentingSolutions.com, says the haircut amounts to public shaming, which is never a good idea. “What happens after humiliation is that a child begins to make decisions based on fear rather than what’s right or wrong,” she tells Yahoo Parenting. “We want kids to make choices based on their internal compass rather than being afraid of embarrassing punishment.”
This kind of punishment also reinforces the idea that parents can’t be trusted, McCready says. “The message the child is getting is, ‘This adult isn’t looking out for my best interest, they’re more interested in humiliating me than helping me,’” she says. “We don’t know very much about the mother who brought her son in for this cut, and I’m sure she did what she thought was the right thing. But in time she may learn that public shaming doesn’t change behavior in the long term. It may in the short term, but at what risk? The risk of eroding the parent-child trust, and that’s huge.”
Public humiliation can also negatively affect a child’s self-esteem, says Amy Morin, psychotherapist and author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do. “When parents use shame-based discipline, it impacts how kids feel about themselves. And when they feel bad about themselves, they’re less likely to want to behave,” she tells Yahoo Parenting. “It can actually change a child’s brain chemistry and have lifelong effects on the way they think and act.”
“The healthiest forms of discipline focus on teaching, rather than punishing kids,” Morin says. “When kids feel punished, they often focus their time and energy thinking about their dislike for the people causing them pain — whether it’s physical or emotional — rather than thinking about how to avoid making the same mistake in the future.”
McCready says a good rule of thumb is to ask yourself one question: If my spouse or my boss did this to me, would that be ok? “If the answer is no, then it’s not ok to do to a child,” she says.
Frederick told the Washington Post he hopes he won’t have to dole out the Benjamin Button Special too often. “I hope that most people won’t have to do this unless it’s an extreme circumstance and nothing else is working,” he said. “First, you talk or implement your restrictions. But when the conventional ways don’t work these days, you have to get creative.”
And the 10-year-old in the photo, who Frederick said started calling himself “old man Jenkins,” got his hair fixed after four days. In a comment on Facebook, Frederick explained that the boy went to school with the cut, “but the school told mom she had a week to fix it.”
Sounds like they didn’t think the “Benjamin Button” was that special, after all.