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Thursday, June 4, 2009

Where Is the Value in This?

I've read several articles lately about parents who send their teenage child to stand on the side of a road with a sign of some sort that details all the evils of said child and his or her behaviors. One such article was with regards to a kid who had poor grades in school. One was a kid who had been caught in some sort of minor criminal activity. The parents felt that making the child stand on the road with their sign would somehow change the child's undesirable behaviors.

It's been a while since I saw one of these articles, but the image has stuck with me. I believe I have to address this before I can let it go within my own mind.

I wonder what brings a parent to believe that this is a good idea. What will be accomplished from this type of punishment?

Well, for starters, the child will be thoroughly humiliated. People will drive by and stare at the child. They will laugh at the child. They may even taunt the child. The child will be embarrassed and probably angry and hurt.

Where is the lesson in this?

The child learns that behaviors that are unacceptable will be met with other behaviors that are - or at least should be - unacceptable.

The child learns that it's okay to laugh at somebody who has failed to meet the expectations of others.

What the child does not learn is the value of good grades or good behavior. The parents teach their child that if the child does not meet certain expectations, the child will be subjected to the world to be stared at, laughed at and taunted.

Now, don't get me wrong. I think parents should be involved in their child's life. I also think there are times that a child needs an extreme level of discipline. However, intentionally setting a child up for blatant humiliation just seems inappropriate to me. The child may choose to adhere to whatever stipulations have been given in order to avoid future humiliation, but at what cost? The parents lose so much more than they gain when they resort to this type of punishment. They lose their child's trust. They lose their child's confidence. They most likely lose a great deal of respect, if they ever had any to begin with.

I do believe that parents who resort to this type of discipline should stand beside their child with their own sign that displays all the ways that they have failed as parents, because quite frankly, if a parent needs to resort to such public humiliations just to get their child's attention then they have certainly failed as a parent.

There - I feel better now. I can move on.


Mel Alarilla said...

Yes, I agree with your opinion on this. Putting a child to this extremely humiliating punishment will only exacerbate the problem. You are right in pointing out that it is as much the failure of the parent in nurturing the child properly as it is the child's mistake. Punishment by humiliation is a cruel punishment and will only provoke further cruel behavior on the punished child. It is better to explain to the erring child the ramifications of his misdeed and just punish him by cutting his allowance or his playing time at the computer rather than subjecting him to a cruel and humiliating experience. Thanks for the post. God bless you always.

The Mother said...

While total humiliation is probably not productive, I will testify to the effects of SHAME in making children reassess their behavior.

My advice about punishment: whatever works. If your child is not responding to "standard" punishment, reassessment is required.

Better a mild case of humiliation than a serious case of imprisonment.

Rebecca said...

Always always, you get what you focus on, always. Focus on a child's shortcomings, that's what you get. Focus on what you EXPECT from the child, that's what you get. Humiliation will produce a child who not only does not improve their behavior, but will resort to humiliating others, if not much worse, A mild case of humiliation will guarantee a serious case of imprisonment.

A. nony mouse said...

I disagree. Negative reinforcement is an effective disciplinary tool, as is positive reinforcement. The wise parent will use both in ways that are proportional to the acts of the child.

I certainly have no problem with a parent putting a teenager out with a sandwich board to show passers-by that he has committed some criminal offense. If he doesn't like it, he can stop stealing.

But for bad grades? No - I can't think of a circumstance where that would be reasonable.

Humiliation and shame have a place - just like spaking has a place. Neither one should be the only option.

Everyone, adult and child, has only one absolute right: to do as you please. There is also only one absolute requirement: to take the consequences of your actions.

Teach your children that actions have consequences, and that they ALWAYS have consequences, and your children will eventually learn to think about what they do - and hopefully will make good decisions which will then be followed by good consequences.

Mom said...


Thanks for stopping by. Your input is appreciated. There's nothing I can add, but I did want to say thank you.

Mom said...

The Mother,

I agree that parents need to reevaluate their methods of discipline if those methods are not working. I don't agree that shaming a child into compliance is a good idea. I remember far too many times when my parents made me feel ashamed of things that were just a normal part of growing up.

As for that serious case of imprisonment, it would be far better to show your child the inside of a prison system in an effort to help them realize where they are headed than to cause them to be publicly humiliated.

Many times - not always - the parents have already failed their child by the time the child is engaging in criminal deviant behavior.

Mom said...


You are absolutely right. What you focus on is most likely what you will get. If you happen to be lucky enough to have a "good" kid and still focus on the bad expectations, you'll never see the good because you always expect the worst. You see what you expect to see.

Mom said...


By the time your child is a teenager, if you have to resort to forcing them to stand on the side of the road and display their misbehavior to the entire world, then you've already done something wrong. This type of punishment is just a bit over the top for me. I would expect that a parent who is more directly involved with their child's life would not need to resort to such desperate measures.

Children learn by example. If you model proper behavior, then your children will learn proper behavior. Teach your child that there are consequences to every action. That's a good place to start, but that lesson has to begin very early, and it has to be consistent throughout the years.

As for criminal behavior, seriously - where have the parents been? Teenagers don't generally suddenly start stealing or acting in criminal ways. These behaviors typically start much earlier and become more serious over a period of time. If the deviant behaviors are addressed when they begin, then they are less likely to escalate.

Wouldn't it be more productive to take the "criminal child" on a tour of the prison system? Sit the child down with a lawyer who can tell him where his behavior is going to take him. Try everything else BEFORE you resort to public humiliation.

I seriously think there are better ways to get through to a kid. Communication happens to be one of them, but parents with troubled kids so often fail to even engage in the most basic communication. How can they expect their child to respond when they suddenly decide that it's time to talk.

The Mother said...

Actually, I disagree entirely. Teenagers do suddenly go bonkers. Been there.

While I think that shaming is not necessarily the best approach, I do NOT think it scars kids for life.

Actually, I don't think very much scars kids for life. Especially in the teenage years. They're pretty plastic. Much more so than recent coddling psychology is willing to admit.

Whatever works. Positive parenting is only useful when it works.

Mom said...

I must have been blessed with teenagers that didn't go bonkers...

Of course, you're allowed to disagree with me (unless your name is Mouse...).

April said...

I leave this comment with the everyone is different idea. Even the best most attentive parents can end up with monster children. It happens! A child is not only under the influence of their parents (though they play a major role) but everyone they interact with everyday. Childrens dispositions can dictate which punishment or reward will work best and an attentive parent will figure these out eventually. Some parents reach the end of their ropes sometimes. It is an unfortunate fact of our mobile society that many of us are streched out across the country away from supportive family members that could help us. It's that whole it takes a village concept. I think that's what those parents are hoping for when they resort to such drastic measures. That their children will come to realize that it is not just their parents that think such behavior is unexceptable but the "village" at large that disapproves. Though I think this may be a little over the top especially for something like grades. It can beat the some of the possible alternatives.