Kids, discipline and the public forum: one does not belong

I’ve noticed a few of my Facebook friends are talking about the trend of parents shaming their kids online, which seems to be more prevalent than ever.

You’ve all heard the stories or seen the pictures of these things when they happen. A kids steals from Grandma, gets caught sneaking out of the house, breaks curfew, etc. and the parent uploads a picture of the kid standing on a street corner or a front porch holding the shameful sign, which local news picks up.

“I won’t break curfew next time!” the sign says. Or, “I’m 13 and stole. When I grow up, I want to go to jail like Daddy!”

The “jail like Daddy” one caused a national stir, and is arguably the grandfather of internet shaming.

This morning I opened up my personal Twitter to scroll through the news, and was straight-up furious.

In Tacoma, a 13-year-old girl committed suicide after a video of her shaming was uploaded to the internet.

In the video, Izabel Laxamana’s father was shown questioning her for unspecified behavior after cutting off her hair as punishment. The video panned to a pile of hair on the floor while the girl was quietly answering his questions, admitting she did something wrong and now lost her hair because of it.

Investigators said that Izabel was bullied over her new look once she got to school and the video was uploaded by someone else, which added fuel to the fire.

Izabel took her life by jumping from a highway overpass and landing on Interstate 5.

A few thoughts come to mind: First, shame on Izabel’s parents.

Cutting her hair off was bad enough. I’d argue her father knew that a young girl, who probably put a lot of emphasis on her hair’s appearance (because ladies, we all focus on our hair way more than we probably should regardless of age), would get bullied over her hack job.

Frankly, to alter your child’s appearance to their detriment is sickening and makes me wonder what kind of sadistic SOB that father is, what kind of punishments he doled out to his daughter we didn’t get to see on social media.

The frightening thing about social media is that it’s easy to bring other people in that shouldn’t be there. It’s easy to upload a picture or post a status, and have one friend comment. Then their friends see it and comment. Then somebody shares it, and before you know it, there’s 100 comments on a private matter that shouldn’t even be on social media in the first place.

I get it: parenting is hard. So hard that’s why I’m actually rather hesitant to have a child of my own. I get that when kids screw up — as they all will do at some point — parents have to jump immediately to deal out the appropriate discipline and bring home the life lesson, lest your child goes through life thinking robbing Dollar General or wearing basketball shorts when it’s -10 degrees out is okay.

So you gotta bring home the point, and you have to do it in a way that the kid understands.

But the bigger picture of parenting and discipline?

There’s a quote in my Dear Abby’s “Keepers” on parenting, which basically says that a parent’s job is to raise their child in the kind of environment that helps them to grow into confident adults who can handle life and interacting with others.

In preparation for the “real world,” parents need to give their kids boundaries and consequences for their own good, but focus on raising them in an environment based on trust: trust that if they have a problem or need help their parent will be there; trust that their parent will be just with discipline; and trust that their parent would never harm or abuse them.

By putting very personal matters — because no kid likes to get in trouble; getting chewed out privately and then grounded is bad enough — in a public forum and opening the kid up to humiliation, that trust is immediately broken.

Let’s say Izabel had not killed herself and pulled through the situation. Do you think if she ever had a problem or needed parental advice she would turn to her parents again? Do you think she wouldn’t walk on eggshells around her father, or trust him to not overreact to minor problems?

If her own family home wasn’t off-limits to a stranger’s eyes and condemnation, how do you think she’d ever trust people to be friends, colleagues or significant others who wouldn’t humiliate her over a misstep?

Frankly, how would any of these kids whose parents publicly shame them be able to forgive their parents and not hold resentment for the rest of their lives?

My hope now is that Izabel’s story becomes a national outrage and public shaming is legally defined as what it really is: abuse. Plain and simple.

Public shaming does way more long-term damage to a kid than a spanking ever could.