Real Talk: Should Parents Use Public Humiliation to Punish Kids?
Getty Images

Over the weekend, another set of parents disciplined their daughter via a method that’s gaining popularity: public humiliation. In this case, the child was made to stand on a busy Florida street corner under her parents’ watch while she held a sign that read, “I sneak boys in at 3AM and disrespect my parents and grandparents.” Many passersby honked their support for the parents.

We’ve seen this before. Earlier this year, author Reshonda Tate Billingsley famously (or infamously, depending on whether you agree with this method) posted a picture on Facebook of her crying 12-year-old 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 and should not post. Bye-Bye.” It was the consequence of the girl posting a photo of herself holding a bottle of her father’s alcohol with the caption: “Wish I could drink this Vodka.” The punishment photo went viral with more than 10,000 shares in just a few hours.

Billingsley isn’t alone among African-American parents. A slideshow on the Chron news site depicts various children with brown hands holding signs announcing they were rude to their teachers, had participated in bullying, had stolen from family members and more. Some of the images had been posted on social media, while others were photographs of the children in public settings.

Of course, this form of discipline is not without its detractors. Some of the comments on the Chron story about this issue refer to this type of punishment as “cruel,” “bizarre” and “scarring.” Actually, it’s brilliant.

Unsurprisingly, most teenagers are acutely aware of how they are perceived by their peers and in public, and what the outside world thinks is cool and cute often matters more than what their parents think. Public humiliation, especially on social media, hits teens where it hurts, and without actually hitting them.

I grew up in a pre-social media era (thank God), so posting pictures for the world to see wasn’t an option for my parents, tech-savvy folk who surely would have used this method. For those more basic times of my adolescence, my parents met complaints from my teachers that I talked back or talked too much in class with a threat — or, as my father would say, a promise — of coming to sit in my classroom. Being embarrassed in front of my friends put the fear of God in me, and I regained my good sense and straightened up so they wouldn’t show up.

There was a time, however, that my good sense just went by the wayside. In sixth grade, a friend bragged that she had been sipping from her father’s liquor stash. Trying to fit in, I countered with a story of my own, telling her about the bar in my parents’ basement that I didn’t even have to sneak from, a complete lie. I added I could drink whatever and whenever I wanted, and my parents didn’t care, which was also a lie. As a 10-year-old, the seriousness of that accusation totally escaped me.

As my luck would have it, a teacher overheard me and called my parents to report what I said. My father, being a “tell the truth, shame the devil” type, decided one of my punishments for that — I was also grounded for what seemed like eternity — would be to call my classmate (who had not been heard by the teacher) and tell her and her parents that I lied, then apologize for embarrassing myself and my parents. At the demand, there was a standoff for at least 30 minutes with me begging to get my father’s belt instead. (Billingsley recounts a similar story when discussing her daughter.) In the end, my parents won.

Of course, my friend told the rest of the class. I was mortified and teased relentlessly for a while for being a liar and for being so stupid in my actions. The public ridicule by my peers worked and once it died down, the fear of it happening again kept me honest and in line more than a private “spanking” ever did.

Would you try public humiliation as a method of disciplining your child?

Demetria L. Lucas is the author of A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life (Atria), in stores now. Follow her on Twitter @abelleinbk