The latest childhood-moment-turned-viral-video isn't exactly heartwarming. A controversial video a father shot of his four-year-old son running through the snow, wearing nothing but his underwear and a pair of shoes, has sparked cries of abuse.
On a visit to the States, He Liesheng of Nanjing, China, filmed his young son whimpering and shuddering during an icy run through the streets of New York City. The video, posted anonymously after dad, He, emailed it to friends, is at the center of a debate: Is this child abuse or just extreme parenting?
Read more about parenting across cultures
But a source close to the family says the demands the father made on his son were borne out of love. "This child has received all sorts of forms of training since he was small," He's personal assistant Xin Lijuan, said in an interview with AFP. "When he was one, he started swimming in water that was 21 degrees Celsius." Born with several health problems, the boy's parents have used these extreme methods to try to boost their son's immunity. And they believe it's working, claiming the boy rarely has a cold or fever.
But the physical pain endured and the threat of hypothermia the child faced have an army of online commenters and child advocates calling the incident child cruelty. "This is what we would call child abuse," Jannah Bailey, executive director of Child Protect, an Alabama-based advocacy organization for abused children, tells Shine. "[The boy] was definitely was not enjoying it and it's not an appropriate punishment for a four-year-old."
Read more about dad Leisheng He's interview here
A few commenters on He's video were conflicted: "His father is cruel, but what he did is for the boy's good. He won't be like today's children who are only able to play with cell phones and computers," writes a viewer. Others only admonished the parents if they forced this kind of exposure on their child regularly.
But Bailey believes a video like this raises a red flag. "When a child is cold that's a parent's responsibility to keep them warm." If he fails at that, it may be a sign of bigger problems when the camera is turned off.
Since the video became a hot topic, it's been linked to writer Amy Chua, whose 'Tiger Mother' parenting approach advocates her Chinese immigrant parents' mentally rigorous child-rearing methods. But it's a mistake, and a dangerous stereotype, to assume extreme physical tests of will are commonplace among Chinese parents.
More commonplace, however, is this kind of cross-cultural co-parenting we've adapted on the web. As the hub for tender childhood moments and a soapbox for niche beliefs, the web has become the proverbial village it takes to raise a child. Parents who've never met trade advice, share memories, and sometimes serve as watchdogs and child advocates.
In her own organization, Bailey has seen social networking expose cases of abuse more than once. "We've had two cases come through Facebook," she tells Shine. "In one a parent posted pictures of daughter with duct tape over her mouth and said this was a punishment." Concerned Facebook users forwarded the photos to local police force who opened an investigation and utilized Child Protect's counseling services.
As the Internet becomes a melting pot of shared experiences, it's raising some difficult questions. When do you blow the whistle on a stranger's parenting practice. And, in a global society, is it fair to judge by your own standards?
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