After learning that her stepdaughter had been “relentlessly harassing” another girl at school, teasing her about her clothes and calling her a “sleaze” and a “slob,” Ally went to a local thrift store and purchased $50 of used clothing. Ally (as SFGate refers to the woman; her last name and that of her stepdaughter, Kaylee, are not identified) then had her stepdaughter wear the ill-fitting, outmoded clothes to school for two days as punishment for bullying the other girl.
Such stories of parents publicly shaming their children to discipline them for bullying, being suspended and other behavior issues have been made much of in the media, SFGate says. Parents have made their children stand in public carrying signs saying “I engaged in bullying behavior” or “I was rude to my teacher / I can’t come to school / I am sorry.” Parents have also posted photos on their children’s Facebook pages as a response for a child talking back to them or for drinking.
Whether these methods are actually effective is questionable. Some say that public shaming of children is the “new spanking,” a case of parents themselves behaving badly as they attempt what could be just a quick fix to a deeper, underlying issue in a child.
A Stepmother Outfits Her Stepdaughter In Used Clothes As a Lesson
Kaylee’s teacher had emailed Ally to tell her that the fourth grader had been bullying another girl for three weeks about her clothes, to the extent that the other girl wanted to leave the school. When Ally talked about bullying to her stepdaughter, Kaylee “did not show any remorse for what she had done.” Her stepmother — with whom Kaylee has a “mother-daughter relationship,” according to her father — was determined that she know that her behavior had been “unacceptable.”
As Ally said to Salt Lake City’s KTSU-TV/Fox news station, “She really needs to know that this had such an effect on someone else’s life.”
So Ally purchased the vintage outfits. Kaylee cried when she first saw them. “I died. I did,” she said to KTSU-TV/Fox. But Kaylee did wear the clothes, felt embarassed and found that her classmates were talking behind her back. As a result, she says that she has learned that bullying is “stupid and it’s mean” and that “it hurts” other people. Her stepmother Ally says that “I think now that she knows what it feels like, and she doesn’t want to be that person anymore because she knows how hurtful it is.”
Experts Say Public Shaming Could Backfire
Child development experts emphasize that Ally’s public shaming of her stepdaughter is not at all the norm and could even be counterproductive. As Dr. Douglas Goldsmith of the Children’s Center in Utah says to KTSU-TV/Fox, “What happens with that is the person walks away at the end saying, ‘Now I’m really angry, that was humiliating and now I’m angry.’”
In addition, public shaming can damage the relationship between children and their parents, says child psychologist Jennifer Leigh in She Knows Parenting:”Children quickly learn they cannot trust their parents. Children need to feel safe and secure and to be able to trust their parents.”
Dr. Goldsmith instead offers a proactive suggestion to teach Kaylee empathy by having her “volunteer at a place where there’s [sic] poor people.” Doing such would encourage Kaylee — or another child who had bullied — to do something that requires positive interactions with other people and that can lead her to reflect on how her actions and words affect others.
Public shaming can be seen as a sign of desperation in parents who are uncertain how to address a child’s challenges but eager to show the world that they can deal with it. It can have a short-term effect, as suggested by Kaylee’s statements to KTSU-TV/Fox. But there can be long-term consequences as a child learns that the “answer” to bullying or other inappropriate behaviors is to have something similar done to her.
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