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Laptop Shooting - Shaming, Naming and Parenting

By Yvette Vignando - 15th February 2012

Parents of teens: imagine that you find out either of these things about your child:

-    Your teen daughter is at a bus stop with her friends: she tells them she’s annoyed with you for making her babysit her younger brother all the time, she continues criticising you for how many chores you make her do, uses a few choice adjectives, and the other teens all sit around being generally critical, ungrateful and well … being teenagers. Those teens go home and tell their friends, some of them even tell their parents, and it gets around that your daughter isn’t happy with you – even some adults hear about her complaints.

OR

–    Your teen son is on school camp and he sits around with his twenty classmates; they are all complaining about their parents, their parents’ “ridiculous” expectations and using foul language to impress each other. Your son joins in with the rest of them, showing no restraint, hoping to impress his friends with his disregard for his parents. A few teachers overhear this and gossip among themselves about what you must be like as parents. Some of the teens also spread this information among their friends – along with all the other teen complaints about their unreasonable parents.

What do you do? Do you stand your teenager on a public highway with a sign around their neck saying “I am an ungrateful (insert nouns or adjectives.) I should be more careful about where and to whom I talk to about my parents.”? Do you send a note to all the other teens who were present, and all their parents, and the teachers, defending yourself from the ridiculous accusations, and letting them know what an ungrateful and disrespectful child you have? Or perhaps, do you take out an advertisement in the local newspaper aiming to embarrass your teen for his or her inane remarks? In your letters and advertisements, do you justify yourself by saying that your teen needs to understand that when he or she makes things public by telling others, the word gets around. Would you, in those letters or in that advertisement republish every stupid thing your teen had said about you and publicly threaten your child by saying something like “Your life is about to get a whole lot harder”?

Perhaps some parents would, if they could find the time?

But my guess is that most of you would not.

Many of us would get angry, some of us would confront our teens with what we’d heard, and probably many of us would make sure there were some consequences. Most of us would be furious but understand about teens trying to impress their friends, and understand that millions of teens all over the world are behaving ungratefully or disrespectfully when they think they are away from the eyes and ears of their parents.  

So if you did not take out an advertisement in the local paper, and spread the false allegations about your parenting even more widely to your whole community; if you did not write letters to everyone who heard about these remarks, would you apply some logical consequences? What would they be? What has your teen done wrong? He or she has been rude – they’ve spread gossip about you that isn’t true and they’ve shown how ungrateful they are for what you do for them. Every parent would have their own ideas but options might be increasing their responsibilities temporarily, requiring them to make some contribution to their local community, not allowing them to attend the next camp, or apologising – there are probably many other choices if you felt that consequences, rather than discussion, were required for this behaviour.

Laptop Shooting  Dad on YouTube

But now we have Facebook – an environment in which no matter how carefully you adjust your Privacy settings, nothing can stop someone copying and pasting your comments somewhere else on the internet – somewhere where there’s no privacy settings. And this week a father decided to use YouTube and Facebook to punish and humiliate his ungrateful 15 year old daughter for her disrespectful comments about him and his wife, and about all the chores she was expected to do. He used YouTube and Facebook because his 15 year old had used Facebook – although she had a private account, her father somehow gained access via their dog’s account (that’s what’s reported) to read the “pissed” post by his daughter. He decided to teach his daughter a lesson publicly, he decided to also teach her friends a lesson, and even their parents (he says) and post his own YouTube video on his daughter’s Facebook wall.

I will call him YouTube Dad – YouTube Dad decided to let his daughter know that her life was about to get “a whole lot harder”, and to really emphasise his point, he videoed himself shooting several bullets from his .45 revolver into her laptop – the video has now had millions of views all over the world. I first saw it in an unexpected place – on SBS World News.

It would take many pages to write out all the thoughts I have about the use of a gun, the words used by YouTube Dad, and about how typical it is for teens to try and distance themselves from parents, resist chores, and show off in front of friends. Millions of teens all over the world also naievely think that their Facebook posts are somehow protected by the magic of technology.

Instead I want to briefly comment on two things:

1. Humiliation or shaming of children as a consequence or a punishment is, in my opinion, never okay, and often damaging. Public humiliation is, in my opinion, even worse, and potentially even more damaging.

2. Mainstream and influential media commentators have mostly categorised the YouTube Dad video as a mistake or overreaction by an understandably angry father who also happened to own a gun. The feelings of many parents have been rather accurately described by one journalist as “a glorious moment of catharsis to many parents” –  after all, most of us would be furious reading the Facebook rant of this YouTube Dad’s 15 year old daughter.
 
But some quite influential journalists, who also have children, have given this father’s laptop-shooting-public-lecture video their tacit or express stamp of approval. One for example commented that the video is funny while still emphasising he is not pro-guns (a radio journalist), and another has commented that the father should be saluted and that the YouTube video is a modern way of teaching a child the dangers of making private things public.

Humiliation and Shaming of Children by Parents

It’s true that some very resilient teens would cope with their parent reading out their ill-considered Facebook posts and dramatically shooting their laptop with live bullets in front of millions of viewers all over the world – others would not. It’s true that some very resilient teens would cope with their parent threatening in front of millions of viewers, to make their life “a whole lot harder” – others would not.

Psychologist Robin Grille is one of many psychologists who have highlighted the negative effects of shaming as a form of punishment – I hold him in high regard –  along with co-author and psychologist Beth MacGregor, he says:

    "As parents we tend to resort to shaming when we feel overwhelmed, irritated or frustrated, and we feel the need to control our children...”  and they say:

     “Recent research tells us that shame motivates people to withdraw from relationships, and to become isolated. Moreover, the shamed tend to feel humiliated and disapproved of by others, which can lead to hostility, even fury. Numerous studies link shame with a desire to punish others. When angry, shamed individuals are more likely to be malevolent, indirectly aggressive or self-destructive. Psychiatry lecturer, Dr Peter Loader, says that people cover up or compensate for deep feelings of shame with attitudes of contempt, superiority, domineering or bullying, self-deprecation, and
obssessive perfectionism..”


MacGregor and Grille explain that shaming does not teach our children what they need to learn, or what they need to know – one of these lessons would be empathy, for example.

I would like to invite psychologists to comment here. As far as I know, the research on humiliation and shaming as a form of punishment indicates that it has the very real potential to teach kids nothing, damage children’s relationships with their parents, and if routinely used as a parenting technique, can lead to depression, anxiety or anger management problems. I am not for one moment suggesting that this is the inevitable outcome of this YouTube Dad’s actions – perhaps he is right, perhaps his teen is resilient enough to weather this particular worldwide humiliation.

Media Commentary, Parenting and the Weight of Responsibility

If we know that in most cases, humiliation or shaming as a form of punishment for children is damaging, counter productive, and mostly cruel, then either saluting or laughing at this kind of parenting has the potential to cause damage. I am fortunate enough to appear in the media from time to time, but I have relatively little influence compared to other moderate and justifiably well-respected journalists who, by their comments have, in my opinion, condoned or 'okayed' the YouTube Dad’s actions.

In my opinion, when moderate and well-respected journalists laugh at or salute these actions, or suggest it could be ‘parenting genius’, then there’s a potential for more damage. Because those journalists have influence, And because they are generally considered to be moderate in their commentary.

One day very soon, I am sure to make a public comment about parenting that is a mistake – I hope that when I reconsider it, I will have the humility to admit to the error. I suspect the journalists I am thinking of are in fact humble and clever people and if they happen to fall upon this post, will read it in the spirit in which it is intended – discussion.

I would love to hear from psychologists and parents on this one – I am not interested in targeting any particular journalist or the YouTube Dad – but I am interested in discussing humiliation or shaming in parenting and the huge responsibility influential members of the media have when stories like this hit the international news.

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