Danielle Smith: Public shaming of children is sometimes justifiable

A Windsor, Ont. mother who took to social media to publicly shame her misbehaving kids got more than she bargained for.

She didn’t expect the posting to go viral or for people to misunderstand her intentions. Her post showed a picture of her kids walking seven kilometers and  carrying a sign that said, “being bad and rude to our bus driver, mom is making us walk.”

She said she had them carry a sign because she lives in the kind of community where people would stop to offer a ride and she wanted her boys to learn a lesson. It went viral, with 28,000 people reposting the image and giving it a thumbs up. But, she also received death threats and was reported to Children’s Services.

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She took the posting down and said she learned a lesson about the power of social media. I’m wondering what other lessons have been learned from the whole episode.

It seems to me that as a society, we are reaching a tipping point of being totally fed-up with over-coddled children who behave like hooligans. We are also prepared to give positive feedback to parents who are taking steps to address the bad behaviour of their children in the hopes that other parents do the same.

But, as it appears with any issue where there is disagreement these days, rather than use the incident as a starting point in a robust discussion over the best way to punish kids for misbehaving, those who disagreed with this mom thought the appropriate response was for a government agency to step in – presumably to take her kids away from her.

So, one of the lessons the kids could take from this is that when they are rotten and get disciplined, their mom will be the one who gets in trouble. Good luck trying to get kids to behave now.

LISTEN: An Ontario mother had her kids walk home from school for being rude to the bus driver

If you are wondering how far the state might go in micromanaging parents on how they discipline, there is at least one lawmaker who believes parents should be prohibited by law from using social media to shame their kids. He doesn’t want kids removed from the homes of violators, but he would force them to pay a fine which would then be turned over to the child when they turn 18.

It is an odd overreaction, considering that public shaming is an age-old societal practice. Just look up the origin of the word “pillory” to get an idea of the history of its use in punishing lawbreakers.

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Public shaming of children is also not uncommon. In my day, you’d be asked to sit in a corner, put your gum on your nose or get the strap if you were really bad. Heaven forbid you got caught passing notes in class and had them read out loud. All of these punishments were mortifying, but my generation survived it and the next generation will too.

The fact that shaming has existed throughout human civilization shows that it is a very powerful tool for teaching societal norms and punishing misbehaviour. Isn’t the entire point of public advocacy to identify behaviour you think is wrong, draw attention to it, and hope that public pressure is enough to get the government/corporation/public figure to change their ways?

Isn’t public shaming behind every petition, protest and boycott? Aren’t the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements what public shaming is all about?

There no doubt is a line where public shaming is unhealthy for a child: if it is cruel and persistent, for instance. Or if parents ridicule a child for something they have no control over, like wetting the bed.  But there is also a point where public shaming is proportionate and educational – like when a child is forced to walk to school because they were brats on the bus.

In this case, I can safely say – this mom did nothing wrong.

Danielle Smith can be reached at danielle@770chqr.com.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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