Using social media to discipline your kids
By Dr Justin Coulson |
Using social media to discipline your kids

Public humiliation as a disciplinary strategy is not new. A few years ago a Townsville mother forced her son to wear a sign saying “Do not trust me. I am a thief” while he sat in the centre of town. And a quick Google search provides millions of hits exposing parents who think it’s a great idea to make their children a public example of wrongdoing so that they can ‘teach them a lesson’.

Social media discipline

Now parents are turning to social media in the name of ‘discipline’. And, in keeping with social media standard protocol, other parents are both praising and ripping into those parents for their creativity in disciplinary strategy.

For example, a father recently posted a photo to photo-sharing site Reddit showing his three-year-old wearing a sign around her neck admitting that she pooped in the shower. Then there was the couple who hijacked their daughter’s facebook page and posted embarrassing photos of themselves in a bid to make their daughter look silly. Plus, don’t forget the father who blasted his daughter’s laptop with a shotgun and posted it on Facebook.

At a superficial level, some of these might (and I emphasise the ‘might’ part of this sentence) be considered funny. But taking even a moment to contemplate the ramifications of publicly humiliating our children exposes the violation of trust that it really is.

Is humiliation effective discipline?

Discipline is about teaching our children good ways to act.

Research indicates that children whose parents use humiliation and shame as ‘teaching’ tools are more likely to use similar strategies with other children.

So when parents launch viral online social media attacks on their children, what is being taught? Are kids learning good ways to act? Are they seeing their embarrassing photos, videos, text messages, and signs online and thinking: “Gee Mum, thanks for persuading me that I need to behave more appropriately or things could get embarrassing for me.”

Of course not. Instead, kids learn that the big person has the power to make me do anything. So might is right. Public humiliation and shame do not teach anything that we want our children to learn, so why do we do it?

Humiliation and shame have serious consequences

A lot of parents will claim, “Hey, it works. There’s no harm in it. It’s even a bit funny. And I get a result. The kid stops doing it.”

But there is harm. Here’s why:

In an online world, content is forever. An image can be copied and go viral in minutes, whether globally or just within your child’s circle of friends. Significant damage can be done to a reputation with just a couple of clicks. The ramifications are significant and can last a lifetime.

For a child to grow up healthy and happy, they need to trust their parents. Trust is the foundation of psychological security. To shame and publicly humiliate (or even privately humiliate) a child is a gross breach of trust and undeniably undermines the relationship you share with your child.

Psychological effects of shame and humiliation include a decreased level of self-esteem and sense of worthiness, diminished self-efficacy (the belief that a person is competent and can do things), and can even lead to depression, anxiety, and elevated stress.

So what should I do instead?

The real problem with using shame and humiliation as disciplinary techniques is that only two things are really taught, and both are damaging. Those two things are that the child is unworthy, and that the person with the power is always right.

Shame and humiliation are tools of power-based parenting. The emphasis here is on making things happen to the child in the hope that those things (which are external to the child) will make the child change.

Research tells us, pretty clearly, that power-based parenting doesn’t work particularly well beyond the immediate context.

Instead, parents and children will both do better if they adopt a team-based approach where they work together on a problem. The parents should consider the development of the child and whether their expectations are appropriate. And then they can discuss, together with their child, what the limits to behaviour should be and why.

I often recommend to parents that they imagine their child were an adult guest in their home. How would they deal with the issue then?

This article was written by Dr Justin Coulson, parenting author, founder of and Kidspot's parenting expert.

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