Sunday, February 3, 2013

The New and (and Not Very) Improved Shame Culture

I'm little concerned with a trend I have been seeing on Facebook and other social media sites. The public humiliation of teens by their own parents as a form of punishment. Apparently, this practice has its own name... Cyber-discipline. And we know that once something gets its own internet name, there's no going back.

Don't get me wrong. I understand that shame can be a very positive motivator for teens. And I am not naive enough to think that I won't ever resort to anything similar with the Squid. I have no idea what the future holds or what I may have to resort to in order to keep her in line. But, in a day and age when we are trying so hard to teach kids about bullying, especially in cyberspace, it seems cruel that parents are being some of the biggest bullies.

Most instances of cyber-discipline involve the kids holding signs outlining their transgressive behavior, or videos showing what the punishment for their misdeeds is. Many are somewhat humorous. Many quickly go viral. They often also show a grinning parent on the sidelines, happy in their personal knowledge that they are being creative with their punishment. Some of these parents, in interviews later, have said that they may have rethought their actions had they known how popular the posts would become.

And that's part of the problem. How can you tell your kid to be careful about what she or he posts to the internet if you aren't going to be careful yourself? Once you upload the video or the picture, it is out of your hands, regardless of your security settings. And are these parents really doing this as a punishment for their kids, or are they trying to stroke their own egos via "like"clicks? One day, your child will be an adult in the Real World, yet the memory and digital evidence of their past shall remain forever.

While I am in no way an expert on raising children and disciplining teenagers, I think that punishment for most infractions should fit the crime. Why do you need to shoot holes in your kid's laptop (with the added expense of replacing it when you realize she really does need it for school), when you could delete her account, block the website,or insist that she only use the computer in the family room with witnesses to her every keystroke? Why do you have to be standing next to your kid who is holding a sign detailing what he did wrong, while you laugh and point? If you really wanted to embarrass him, couldn't you have him write a public apology on his page? Or better yet, actually go and apologize to the people he has wronged in person?

I don't want anyone to think that I am some ultra-liberal parent who thinks that all problems can be solved with hugs and discussion. Squid gets swats on occasion if she is doing something that could cause her serious injury (that's a-whole-nother post). And I do understand that some kids are especially defiant and extreme measures are called for to get them to follow the rules. But, before such measures are taken, the parent really needs to think about their own behavior. Are they doing this to actually teach a lesson, or for their own personal gain? Is this something they want college recruiters to see when they Google search your child? Are there other options that you may have not considered?

Parents of teens did not grow up with social media. Even the geekiest of us were limited to Internet Relay Chat (or possibly MUT) and Bulletin Board Systems. The internet is growing far faster than we can come up with the etiquette to behave properly with it. But, if we remember to THINK before we speak (Is it TRUE? Is it HELPFUL? Is it INSPIRING? Is it NECESSARY? Is it KIND?), and teach our kids to do the same, we should manage just fine.

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