A North Carolina father has resorted to making his 15-year-old daughter carry a sign along a busy road as punishment for being suspended from school for being disrespectful to her teachers. Donnell Bryant told ABC News that his ninth-grade daughter Quandria had become a “mean girl” in high school.
“She acts like it’s all about her,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s not.”
His punishment? The teen had to walk up and down a busy road near her high school, visible to all her friends leaving school by bus or by foot, carrying a large sign that read on one side: “I have a bad attitude I disrespet [sic] people who try to help me.” The other side read: “I do what I want, when I want, how I want it.”
“Instead of embarrassing the teacher, she’s the one embarrassed,” Mr. Bryant said.
Is public shaming a trend in disciplining teens? Just yesterday, our blogger Amber Doty brought you the story of an Ohio mom using Facebook to punish her 13-year-old daughter for speaking disrespectfully about her in front of friends.
North Carolina dad Tommy Jordan’s YouTube video, called “Facebook Parenting for the Troubled Teen,” went viral in February. In it, the dad reads his daughter’s Facebook post whining about her chores, and then empties his .45 into her laptop. Responses to the video were decidedly mixed: some called him “Father of the Year” and some thought he wasn’t setting a very level-headed example. (Personally, I was saddened by the loss of a perfectly good laptop.)
In January, an Indiana mom made her 14-year-old son wear a sign around his neck saying “I lie, I steal, I deal drugs.” Despite a laundry list of crimes, the court system only punished him with a fine and community service. When neighbors saw the teen by the side of the road (on Lax’s own property) wearing the sign, they called the police. The Ft. Wayne, Indiana police came out and decided that while making your kid wear a sign may not be conventional, it’s also not illegal.
“I’ve done therapy with my son,” mom Dynesha Lax told ABC News. I’ve done positive reinforcement. I’ve done negative reinforcement. I’ve done mommy-and-me days. I’ve even called the police on him,” Lax said. “But everything seems to be taken lightly. Nobody is taking seriously that these are serious offenses.”
What’s the response? Besides the immediate concern about safety (the side of a busy road doesn’t seem like the best place for anyone), most parents I asked said they understood where Mr. Bryant was coming from in making his daughter wear a sign near her school. And while many understood the impulse, they also questioned whether the punishment would be effective.
Heather Sokol, whose oldest daughter is a teenager, sympathized with parents who may need to go the extra mile to drive home a message.
“Sometimes, all you need to turn the tide is for others to see a little of it, just once.”
“Teens go out of their way to get a rise out of their parents,” said Ms. Sokol, who also blogs for Babble’s New Home Ec. “They’ll pull things in private that they would never dream of doing at school or in front of peers. Sometimes, all you need to turn the tide is for others to see a little of it, just once.”
Many parents cited the need for “natural consequences” as opposed to “punishment,” and thought that making the teen do volunteer work for the teacher or school would have been more productive.
“Scrape gum off the floor, dust, file papers, whatever the teacher needs done,” suggested one mom. “That would be embarrassing and teach her there will be consequences for her actions.”
“I want my son to understand the situation, not humiliate or shame him into submission,” said another mom, who is also a high school educator.
Many parents doubted that public shaming would prove effective, although one woman pointed out that the judicial system sometimes uses this approach with adults.
“A woman in my hometown was caught embezzling from the insurance company she worked for (over 20 years – hundreds of thousands of dollars), as well as about $10,000 from the local high school booster club,” said Melissa, who blogs at Trailer Park, But Not Trash. “The judge at her sentencing not only sentenced her to prison time, but before she went to jail, she had to stand on a street corner downtown for 10 days with a sandwich board that read ‘I steal from children.’”
Mary McCarthy, mom of four kids (including a 14-year-old and a 19-year-old), said, “I’m no cowboy, but I gotta say, I would’ve shot the laptop.” Ms. McCarthy, who blogs at Pajamas and Coffee, added: “Luckily, as a blogger, all I usually have to do is say ‘Don’t make me blog about you.’ Parents need to do what we need to do to raise our children into decent human beings versus spoiled little monsters. If we have to be creative about it in a way that gets the message across? So be it.”
“Shooting your kid’s laptop? No problem. Announcing your child still wets the bed or calling them names? No thank you.”
Humor blogger Amy Fleck agreed — but said there’s a fine line between being effective and just being mean. Ms. Fleck, who has two teenagers and blogs at Donkeys to College, said, “It’s dealer’s choice in regard to embarrassing your child along the lines of the various stories we have seen. If you’ve tried everything and think it will help the situation, then go for it. But I would draw the line in humiliating your child by way of sharing truly personal information in an attempt to hurt your child or get even with them.
“All in all,” said Ms. Fleck, “shooting your kid’s laptop? No problem. Announcing your child still wets the bed or calling them names? No thank you.”
Veteran educator Stephen McGrath cautioned parents to have a balanced approach to discipline. “I don’t think that public shaming does any good,” said Mr. McGrath, who has taught history at both the high school and college level. “I do think that taking away computer time, a written apology to the teacher, and perhaps a grounding are appropriate. Remember, kids make mistakes and adults should not overreact to a teenager’s transgressions. We all made them.”
“Remember, kids make mistakes and adults should not overreact to a teenager’s transgressions. We all made them.”
I asked author and parent educator Annie Fox, M.Ed. for her opinion on public shaming as a method of discipline.
“If your goal is to teach your child respect, then treating them disrespectfully is never a smart move,” said Ms. Fox.
“Parents need to talk about the emotions behind the unacceptable behavior. Children need to understand that their responses were inappropriate. Help the child strategize other options, because there will be other times when she’s frustrated, resentful, jealous, etc. We help our kids make better choices when we help them respond to life’s ‘inconveniences’ in appropriate and responsible ways at home and in public.”
I agree that addressing the teen’s emotions, and helping them develop better decision-making skills, is probably the key. But on the other hand, in the cases of the teens forced to wear or carry signs, it’s apparent that this was a punishment of last resort, dealt out by parents who are desperate to get through to their kids. The mom who made her teen son wear a sign saying “I lie, I steal, I deal drugs,” had tried therapy and felt that the legal system had failed her son. It should be noted that her other teenage son runs track and is a straight-A student, so I doubt she’s been a terrible mom all along or anything.
My oldest kids are 11-year-old twins, and I’ve already done several things I swore I would never do as a parent. It’s safe to say I’ll never shoot a laptop (what a waste), but as for taking over a Facebook page or making a kid wear a sign? I’d be foolish to say never. I’d like to believe it won’t be necessary, but I’m sure these parents couldn’t have predicted their kids’ behaviors either.
It’s easy to sit back and say this punishment is terrible, but these parents are trying to keep their kids out of jail. I imagine carrying a sign along a road is less humiliating than a mug shot. While a lot of parents are clearly looking the other way, ignoring their children’s behavior, or blaming their kids’ behavior on someone else, these parents are at least trying to straighten their kids out. I fail to see why we should judge them for that.
I’d hate to see this become a real trend, though. Dramatic measures are best left reserved for desperate situations. If this becomes commonplace, it will lose its shock value and become a status symbol of rebellion among teens.