Embarrassment as Punishment?

One of the morning shows recently asked their viewers to weigh in on their reaction to the father who read his teenage daughter’s Facebook rant about her parents and then shot her laptop computer, posting all of this for public viewing. The response to the show’s question “do you approve or disapprove?” was anoverwhelming approval of the father’s using public embarrassment as appropriate parenting. It seems there is a public sentiment pointing to a need toreturn in some more modern way to the time in our American history when public humiliation by placing people in “stocks” in the village square was the acceptable norm.

In trying to understand why embarrassing a child seems so acceptable to so many people, it’s important to try and place it in context. While the father said, in an interview, that he had been punished by humiliation as a child and therefore, what he did seemed acceptable to him, I would suggest that more is going on then simple community approval of mimic-style parenting techniques.

Life is moving fast with change occurring faster than most parents can keep up with. In some ways this father took on an aura of “hero” because he was able to unravel the complexity of the internet, a task beyond many parents. He took a stand against children outsmarting their parents.

Because our teens are living in such a separate electronic world from most of today’s adults, it seems more and more parents are feeling out of control and helpless. What could appeal more to the American psychology than a “gun-toting” no-nonsense authority figure. This father’s video triggers images of a modern-day Wyatt Erp, a fearless Jason Bourn. There becomes a collective sigh of relief that finally there is someone who will step up and take a stand.

And there is certainly something to be said in favor of parents taking control of situations where their children are not old enough or wise enough to manage on their own. Teens are notorious for thinking they are invincible and straying into very dangerous territory, especially in this age of technology.

On the other hand, new research, made possible by this very same technology, is giving us more information about the brain and the fact that during adolescence it is still developing. How we teach and guide our teens has more lasting effects than we realized and humiliation and shame have negative long term consequences.

So, what we see with this current controversy, is that this snapshot view we’ve been given into one family’s private life is also a picture of what we’re all struggling with. It’s tempting to clap for the gun slinging sheriff who vicariously saves us all, but that’s too easy. Instead we have to struggle with finding ways to guide these not yet grown children who are walking through a landscape most of us don’t understand, and we have to do this without damaging them as we try and save them from themselves.

Their adolescent rebellion is no longer whispered to a best friend. It is now acted out in public where they advertise their mistakes and leave themselves open and vulnerable. Our job as parents is not to add to their vulnerability.

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