How does public shaming by parents affect kids? (Photo courtesy Getty Images)
A father in South Carolina found an unusual way to punish his young daughter for allegedly plagiarizing her school work – he made her wear a sign on the side of the road admitting her mistake.
“I lied about my grades, and stole someone’s school work,” the sign read, according to witnesses in South Carolina who saw the girl holding it on the street corner.
“She couldn’t look us in the eye,” Katherine Williams, who spotted the girl, told local Fox News. “She kept looking away, and she was crying and shaking.”
A photo of the girl wearing the sign, taken by a passerby. Photo courtesy KTVI
Williams said she confronted the father, but he didn’t let his daughter take off the sign. “He said, pretty much, that she’s not your child. It’s none of your business and just told us to leave, and if we had a problem to call the police,” Williams said. A Corporal from the Sheriff’s office did indeed come out, but ultimately decided the father was within his rights. (The Sheriff’s office has not yet responded to Yahoo Parenting’s request for comment.)
Disciplining kids with public shaming methods has become an increasingly popular trend lately. Recently, one barber even advertised his services for giving misbehaving kids “old-man” haircuts. In many cases, parents post pictures of the shaming tactics to social media—like a mom who shared photos on Facebook after she made her daughter shave her head or the dad who made his 10-year-old daughter dress her age when he learned she was secretly starting to date. Another mom forced her “naughty” son to return his Christmas gift and posted to Reddit a picture of a receipt.
“I think the reason for the trend is because we don’t have as much tight knit community and family support,” Dr. Deborah Gilboa, a parenting expert and family physician, tells Yahoo Parenting. “It used to be that if a kid did something that was really unethical or in poor character they wouldn’t hear it just from parents. They would hear it from parents, neighbors, other role models, and those people would say ‘That’s not okay. That’s not the kind of person we want you to be.’” As adults have become less willing to parent other people’s children, Gilboa says, adults are turning to the public for that help.
“We want kids to feel accountable to other people for their behavior, we want them to feel shamed for their behavior when it is warranted – but not shamed as people,” Gilboa says. “My guess is that the child may have said ‘I didn’t think anybody would know,’ so maybe her dad wanted to teach her a lesson. As parents we’re struggling to find ways to show our kids they need to be accountable for their actions and that our actions have repercussions.”
But Gilboa says that public shaming probably isn’t the answer. “It takes away from building character,” she says. A better route, according to Gilboa, would have been for the father to call in adults his daughter already knew to talk to her, since the local witnesses to the sign were probably complete strangers. “I bet there are adults whose opinions matter to her – a pastor, a coach, an aunt or uncle — who the father could call in to say, ‘I’m really disappointed in you.’ It would probably make more of an impression on her of those people talked to her about what she did, though it’s a harder fix than buying $2 worth of office supplies.”
Still, Gilboa says without knowing the father and daughter, she can’t say his actions were completely wrong. “It may have been unreasonable, but it may not have,” she says. “But what I hope he was trying to accomplish – to help his daughter build a stronger character – this isn’t going to get her there.”