I'm not a doctor or a psychologist, but I am an adult that was partially raised with Shame Based Punishments. As an avid reader (and quiz taker) of Buzzfeed, I have seen my fair share of lists or stories about parents who use Shame Based Punishments as a means to parent their child or children. I don't know any of these families personally, but what I do know is exactly how each one of these children feel. With each article posted, I flashback to my own experiences and feel enormous empathy for each child. I know what they are thinking and feeling.
While I can only imagine how difficult raising a child must be, when a parent chooses to shame their child, I assume it's a last resort. However, this day and age brings a new stage of humiliating a child into submission. No longer are parents embarrassing their children in front of family or friends, now there is Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, and a slew of other social media outlets to post photographic evidence of their child and the punishment. With some of these images going viral, children and their parents become targets of praise or criticism in the eyes of the media and the populace at large. Children in these viral images are not just chastised by their parents, but also from commentators in the comment section on websites.
When Ryan Broderick, of Buzzfeed, posted an article about a father in Kentucky embarrassing his ten year old daughter, I immediately went to the comment section. Most seemed in support of Mr. Jones' parenting style of dressing his child in age appropriate clothes, that included a pink airbrushed T-shirt with her age on the front and her grade on the back, and had her take a Princess Sofia backpack, (to clarify, Princess Sofia is the titular character from Disney Junior's Sofia the First, a show aimed at children ages two to seven). Mr. Jones was applauded by most for his efforts to teach his ten year old to dress appropriate for her age and not to hang out with older boys. What I saw, was a father taking an easy out; instead of talking with his child about her apparent behavior, he decided to blast her image on Facebook and force her to school with a backpack designed for children three to eight years younger than herself; and that's the problem.
Not too long ago, a family would bear the burden of a misbehaving child together. Parents would wonder, "Where did I/we go wrong?", "How can I/we fix this?", "Why does my child feel the need to behave this way?" It was recognized that children (and children is the operative word here) lack the maturity and brain development to realize actions and consequences, and as the parents, it was their job to guide their children onto the right path. Some parents found success in the home, others may have had to seek outside professional help to correct the behavior, and some may have had a child too far gone to ever reach them, but families didn't go public with their child's behavior. With the advent of being "Internet Famous", it appears some, like Mr. Jones (who is also a rapper), may be seeking their fifteen minutes of fame at the cost of their child's psychological and emotional well being. But regardless of intent, a child shamed is a child shamed, whether on the internet or not.
I remember being twelve years old and having a surprise party thrown for me. My two little sisters wanted to join in and I remember telling them they could, but had to go get soda for my party. My sisters left the camper where the party was being held and went into the house. They never returned, and I'm not sure what they told my Stepfather, but the next five minutes of my life became an embarrassing nightmare. My Stepfather flung open the sliding glass door of the camper and asked me what my name was, I told him smiling, "Lindsay". He then asked more sternly, "What is your full name?" I locked eyes with him, too upset to look away and spoke more softly, "Lindsay Michelle Stearns". The entire camper was silent; no more laughing or having fun with my friends. I was in trouble and they had no choice, but to watch. My Stepfather continued, "That's right, you're Lindsay Michelle Stearns, a fucking twelve year old," then he started screaming at me (maybe five or six inches from my face), "You're a fucking child, I own this house and this fucking camper and I will stop this party and send all your fucking friends home and you'll never have another birthday party as long as you live in my house." I was a deer caught in the headlights, and he stormed off. The tears immediately poured from my eyes as soon as he was gone. I cried to my friends about how much I hated living in that house, how much I hated my Stepfather, and that I was sorry. Then a group of eleven and twelve year old girls gathered in the master bedroom of my Stepfather's camper and cried. After that, two of my friends never came back to my house and one friend stopped talking to me. Happy Birthday.
I'm twenty-seven now, and fifteen years later I still remember that interaction. I remember being angry, and embarrassed, and hurt. However, fifteen years later I realize that I was in fact just "a fucking child", a twelve year old (that to this day isn't sure what I did wrong, as it was never explained to me) that received the wrath of her forty year old Stepfather. What I've come to realize as well, is that my Stepfather was, and still is, a bully; and that's how I view any parent that uses their size and/or authority to dominate their children.
I will say that Shame Based Punishments were successful for a child like myself. That's right, I said it worked. It worked by making me afraid of my Stepfather, it worked in making me resent my Mother (who did nothing to stop my Stepfather when he acted in this manner), it worked by leaving enough emotional scars that I have received mental health services on and off for twelve years, it worked by alienating me from trusting my family, but it worked. I was never in trouble as a child, because I would lock myself in my room for most of the time I was at home, until I moved out at twenty-two. However, the quick solution to shame your child for acting out can ruin your relationships forever. To this day I'm not partially close with my Mother and can't stand being around my Stepfather; and my current Psychiatrist has even advised me to not spend more than a few days a year with my family.
Shame is a horrible feeling and an emotional weight, but I fear that parents and advocates are ignoring the greater harm to a child's well being and to the fact that a child is a person with feeling, thoughts, and emotions all their own. I wonder how one of these parents or advocates would feel if every time they made a mistake or had a lapse in judgment, a person of authority over them was there to photograph, and then share with the world what they did wrong. Would people be quick to applaud a boss or authority figure for a job well done? I highly doubt that, adults would cry "abuse" and a media shit storm would hit the airwaves. But because we are talking about children, we feel they are getting their "just desserts", but why?
With Shame Based Punishments, parents are essentially telling their children that they are burdens and should be able to parent themselves. Despite hormonal and developmental changes a child should be in complete control of their choices and not bother their parents to raise them. If they make a mistake, however, they will be subjected to a type of punishment that sears resentment and distrust into a child's psyche. But the ramification of using Shame Based Punishments goes far beyond the front door for children in today's "pics or it didn't happen" society. When parents decided to provide photographic evidence, they are subjecting their children to the ridicule of other adults that they don't even know, who applaud an adult bullying a child.
While these children may not show outward signs of abuse, they are still being tortured emotionally by a person that they should feel safe with. If these parents posted photos of their child with bruises or other visible marks of abuse, DFS would take over, the parent or parents would be vilified, and a lynch mob would form, but emotional abuse is internal and often times isn't take serious, even by professionals who are taught to see abuse.
When I was a sophomore in high school, I participated in drama. A week before our first performance, we had daily rehearsals that would go until eight o'clock at night. Since I was only fifteen at the time and unable to drive myself, my Mother or my Stepfather would need to pick me up after rehearsals. It was during one these partially late rehearsals that my Stepfather showed up two hours early and was fuming. I approached him, wanting to know why he was so early since I had already told my Mother I would be late that evening. In front of the entire drama club and two teachers he screamed at me, "You are such an inconsiderate brat. All you ever think about is yourself and I've been sitting in the fucking parking lot for an hour. Pull your head out of your ass and fucking tell someone when you need to be picked up. I'm leaving, so you can walk home," (I would like to point out that I lived fifteen miles from my high school and I fully believe that my Stepfather expected me to walk home). A pit formed in my stomach and I stated apologizing to everyone. I felt like a pariah as everyone just stared at me; I ran to the girl's bathroom and cried. One friend came to check on me, but neither teacher even acknowledged what just happened right in front of them. I was driven home a few moments later by another drama classmate's mom, who also happened to be one of our school's counselors. She told me that sometimes parents get frustrated and say things they don't mean. I suppose that was to make me feel better, but all it did was make me feel more isolated, and that my Stepfather's inability to control his anger was my fault. When I got home I blew up at my Mother, "Why didn't you tell him that I didn't need to be picked up until eight?" She said she called and left him a voicemail, but he never checked his message, so he must not have known. So my parents' inability to communicate suddenly became a fifteen year old's problem.
Parents who use Shame Based Punishment techniques are expecting their developing children to fully understand actions and consequences, yet use these techniques as a reminder that they are children. What seems completely idiotic to me, apparently needs further explanation: You can't expect your child to rationalize like an adult, but maintain their youthful ignorance; it's not possible. And that's what I want parents and advocates of Shame Based Punishments to know. And I sincerely hope that if a parent decides to photograph a child to embarrass them, I wish they would stop for one moment and realize that their child is a person and not a burden.