Parents who publicly shame their kids: These disgusting attempts at viral infamy need to stop

A South Carolina mom tries to punish her son by humiliating him in Walmart

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published October 6, 2015 7:28PM (EDT)

  (<a href=''>frantab</a> via <a href=''>Shutterstock</a>)
(frantab via Shutterstock)

I believe with all my heart that you are not the kind of parent who would do this, or the kind of non-parent who would approve of this. But let's just just agree to not even come close here.

South Carolina's The Herald reports that a Rock Hill mother is currently under investigation after handing out an unusual and extreme punishment on her son. Police say they were called to a local Walmart where they found the boy "dressed in a tutu, women’s boots, a women’s undergarment and a T-shirt with permanent marker writing underneath." His head was shaved "in an unusual manner, bald on top with a patch of wig on the front of his head” and the word 'BAD' written in marker on the back of his head."

And the infraction that caused this public display of shaming? The mother claimed she "punishing her son for fighting and making homophobic remarks in school." The boy's age was not given out by police, but they did add the mother told them that "corporal punishment has been ineffective, so she was attempting to embarrass" him. Well, that is definitely a new way to teach tolerance and inclusiveness, especially after corporal punishment doesn't work.

Because we live in a magical age in which we carry around small devices that can take photographs and videos and then transmit them to the whole world in real time, it's alarmingly easy to turn an already supremely ill-advised teachable moment into an opportunity for viral infamy. It almost seems the point. I don't know if Rock Hill mom's firing on all her best judgment cylinders anyway, but you'd think that even if she sincerely though that the best way to discourage her child from behaving in a homophobic manner was to put him in women's clothing and write the word "BAD" on his head (P.S.: It is not), she might have considered that her son's "embarrassment" could easily wind up permanently out there for all to mock. That's how these things play out.

In 2012, a Florida family made their 15-year-old daughter stand at a busy intersection with a sign reading, "I sneak boys in at 3 a.m. and disrespect my parents and grandparents." Earlier this year, a Snellville, Georgia barber shop made headlines with its offer to parents of humiliating haircuts for their misbehaving children — free of charge. And just last month, the Delaware County mother of a college freshman achieved a moment of Internet fame for a lighthearted video berating him for not calling her. Parents: You have GOT TO chill the hell out.

For some genuinely misguided reason, parenting is often now mistaken for a social act, and shaming in general has become America's favorite pastime. It doesn't count unless a whole big group of people can get in on the pointing and tsk tsking. Why discipline your kid in private, when you can cart him to the Walmart and dress him in cut-rate drag? And these acts have consequences. At best, they fail spectacularly to instill empathy and compassion. They teach that humiliation is an appropriate form of dealing with inappropriate behavior. At worst, the effects can be devastating. In May, 13-year-old Izabel Laxamana leapt to her death from an overpass in Tacoma — two days after her parents cut her hair as a punishment for sending a suggestive photograph to a boy and made a video of the aftermath of the act for her to "have a reminder" of what she'd done.

But right around the time of the death of Laxamana, Florida dad Wayman Gresham went viral with a message of his own. In the video he first posted on Facebook, he is seen brandishing a razor near his son's head. "I'm pretty sure you've seen many videos with parents cutting their kids' hair," he says, before giving the kid a hug and "There is no way in the world I would ever embarrass my son like that. It doesn't take all of that." Speaking with Today at the time, adolescent and family psychologist Dr. Barbara Greenberg concurred with Gresham's message, saying, "Public humiliation and shame may be an even worse form of discipline than hitting a child. Humiliation and shame teach nothing but fear." And that doesn't have to be head shaving and a parade around the Walmart. Take it from Wayman Gresham — "Good parenting is letting your child know you love them regardless of what they are and who they are and showing them a good example."

Fear-Based Parenting

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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Aol_on Izabel Laxamana Parenting Rock Hill Wayman Gresham