Public shaming of kids and teens has been all over the news lately, from a laptop-shooting dad to a mom frustrated by her son’s repeated criminal activity.
When I interviewed parents, educators, and a counselor for a separate post about this, responses were mixed: many parents sympathized with the parents, and found public shaming to be an acceptable, if last resort, form of discipline. Others, including the counselor, said it was both inappropriate and ineffective.
What shocked me, in my research, was the range of sins committed by kids that resulted in public shaming. As I delved deeper, I found that in some cases, I could totally understand the parents’ motives. In other situations, it seemed way over the line.
Is stealing a good reason to shame a teenager? How much do they have to steal for it to be appropriate? What if a grown-up steals? What if a grown-up steals from kids?
How young is too young for this type of punishment? Fifteen? Thirteen? One girl was eight.
Is it okay for kids but not for adults? Or okay for adults but not for kids? A woman convicted of embezzling over $10,000 from a local high school’s booster club was forced to wear a sign that said “I stole from kids” (plus two months’ jail time). Two other women agreed to wear signs saying “I stole from a 9-year-old on her birthday” to avoid jail time after being found guilty of using two Walmart cards they found in the store that the girl had misplaced.
Where should the line be drawn? Take a look at these examples. Which ones make sense to you?
1. Dad Forces ‘Disrespectful’ Teen to Wear Sign as Punishment for School Suspension
May 2012: North Carolina dad Donnell Bryant made his 15-year-old daughter Quandria carry a sign outside her school after being suspended for being disrespectful to her teachers. Mr. Bryant also had Quandria make a public apology to her teachers. The sign read “I have a bad attitude and disrespect people who try to help me” and was easily visible by students leaving school by bus or on foot.
2. Suspended Fifth Grader Wears Sign: ‘I Was Not Raised This Way’
April 2012: A Miami fifth grader was made to hold a sign reading “I was sent to school to get an education, not to be a bully. I was not raised this way!” after being suspended for planning to bully a fellow student. He had plotted with another student to bully someone, and was suspended for four days. The boy’s mom, Tarra Dean, who is a corrections offer, told local news that she had imposed the punishment to make her son more aware of the severity of his actions.
3. Police Called as Dad Punishes 8-Year-Old Girl on School Property
April 2012: Officials at High Mount Elementary in Swansea, IL called police when Montrail White attempted to punish his daughter on school grounds by making her wear a sandwich sign reading “I like to steal from others and lie about it.”
“It’s his right to discipline his child how he sees fit, within reason,” High Mount School Superintendent Michael Brink told NBC News. “Our concern is he’s trying to do it in the middle of a very, very busy parking lot while screaming profanities.”
“The little girl was extremely upset, screaming and crying. There were a lot of confused and concerned parents. We had probably 480, 490 kids who saw this morning,” said Brink.
Mr. White denied using profanity, but agreed to move across the street, off school property. Amiyah told reporters she had learned her lesson, and believed her father meant well.
4. Ohio Mom Uses Facebook to Punish Teen
April 2012: Fed up with her 13-year-old daughter Ava’s drama and mouthing off on Facebook, Ohio mom Denise Abbott accessed Ava’s Facebook account and replaced her profile pic with a photo of the teen sporting a big, red “X” over her mouth. Text added to the photo read “I do not know how to keep my [mouth shut]. I am no longer allowed on Facebook or my phone.” A humbled Ava then had to explain that “I was mean to my mom and spoke disrespectful to her in front of my friends.” While Denise told NBC News that parents must “adapt your parenting skills with the times,” critics called her approach child abuse.
5. ‘I Stole From a 9-Year-Old on Her Birthday. Don’t Steal or This Could Happen to You.’
March 2012: Two women from Bedford, PA agreed to stand (or sit, apparently) in their town’s center carrying an embarrassing sign in order to avoid jail time for theft of lost property. Tina Griekspoor and her mother, Evelyn Border, used Walmart gift cards worth $30 and $50 they found in the store, which had been misplaced by a child.
“I’m not in the financial situation to fight it,” said Ms. Griekspoor, 35, a food service worker. “I have a family I’m supporting. My husband is laid off.”