Public Shaming is the New Spanking and It's Not OK

ThinkStockAnother week, another parent shaming their kid on social media. This time, a photo posted to Reddit on Thursday depicted a smiling father standing next to his sullen teenage daughter who was wearing a T-shirt with his scowling face and the words "Try me!!" printed on it. The caption above the photo read, "What my friend made his daughter wear to school for a week as punishment for coming home past curfew. Parenting win?"

At this point, humiliating teens on social media is hardly news. In February 2012, in response to his 15-year-old daughter complaining about her household chores on Facebook, North Carolina dad Tommy Jordan brought her laptop to an open field and fired nine shots into it with a .45 caliber handgun, then posted the video on YouTube. In May of that year, after author Reshonda Tate Billingsley discovered that her daughter posted alcohol-related photos on Facebook, she posted her own photo on the website: Her daughter holding a sign that read, "Since I want to post photos of me holding liquor I am obviously not ready for social media and will be taking a hiatus until I learn what I should + should not post. BYE-BYE." And in October, two parents in Wisconsin posted mortifying photos of themselves making silly faces to their daughter's Facebook page because she talked back to them.

Other forms of public shaming—kids standing in front of their schools or on street corners holding signs apologizing for bad behavior—have not been specific to social media, but you can bet they ended up there. 

Granted, some of these parents claimed that their punishments were not an immediate response but rather a last resort. And there's no denying that the teenage years can be rocky. But this breed of discipline seems rather extreme; even if the parent removes the photo, in the age of screen-shots, re-tweeting, re-posting, and sharing, it'll likely stay online forever. And is shaming a kid on social media really going to prevent him from misbehaving again?

"Punishing a kid with public humiliation not only makes the parent appear immature, it reflects a genuine mean streak," says Fran Walfish, Psy.D., a child psychotherapist in Beverly Hills, CA. "When a parent goes this far, they completely break the trust that's so crucial in adolescence. Of course no one wants their child to misbehave but when parents use public shame it's a sign that they've really lost control over their kids."

If threatening to take away social media doesn't work and parents are at their wits end, finding a family therapist should be the next step. "The goal is to keep the lines of communication open and public shaming, no matter what behavior instigated it, will close it right up," she says.

And if you've already taken to social media to discipline your kid? You owe them a big, fat apology. "Admit that you made a mistake and say you regret letting the world in on family business," says Walfish. "Then, if your child is open to it, go onto social media and apologize publicly. Doing so is the only way to repair the relationship with your child."