Recently a Texas mom made international news by publicly exposing her fifth-grade son as a bully. He had been verbally abusing other kids, so the mother, named in reports only as “Star”, sent the boy to school wearing a t-shirt with “I am a bully” written on it back and front in large letters. He apparently wore the shirt for a whole day with the approval of his school’s guidance counsellor and teachers.
But Star also posted pictures of him in the t-shirt (face obscured) on her Facebook page. She told a Houston TV station, “I posted it to reach out to the parents of any of the kids my son may have bullied so that each one of them could get a personal apology.” After receiving a good bit of shaming herself, she removed the photos. Still, she maintained that this type of punishment “works” for her son.
Mostly, parents seem to post cute and clever things online about their kids, but child shaming is also said to be a trend. Shaming in general is hardly the way to encourage virtue in a child, but how can a parent be unaware of the risk of further harm from exposing him on the intenet?
It's true that Star obscured the face of her son in the Facebook post, but anyone connected with their neighbourhood or the school he went to would be able to circulate his name with “shares”.
Facebook, You Tube, and Instagram have made efforts to allow for more privacy in what we post online, but unless you look into your own personal privacy settings, anyone with access to your account can see anything you post.
And, as we have been told for years, the internet lasts forever. That means that what you post today about your son’s or daughter’s misdemeanours will still be there 10 or 15 years from now when they are trying to enter the workforce and make a name for themselves in their chosen profession.
How is it that, nearing the end of 2018, there are so many people who still seem surprised by this information?
It is not as though we don’t know the dangers involved in posting our lives online. If you Google the subject, over 62 million links show up. There is no way not to grasp the idea that putting your child’s wrongdoing online might not be the best thing for you or him.
It seems that every week there is another story hitting the media about how to protect ourselves online from fraud, from predators, from our own stupidity – such as posting disparaging comments about the boss during a drunken weekend. We have heard about the job someone didn’t get, because a potential employer decided to check Facebook, and found that the person in question had participated in some not-so-desirable behaviour.
Nearly two decades into the 21st century, surely we have learned a little about how the internet works, haven’t we?
For parents who decide to post embarrassing pictures and videos online of their children, the answer seems to be “No.” Somehow they are unaware of how long this particular form of humiliation will last, or they simply do not feel it is that big an issue.
It is, though. This kind of treatment of a child can lead to long-term damage. If the goal of these parents is to help their children make better choices (read: follow house rules and expectations), then shaming them is not the way to go.
Dr Brene Brown, who holds a PhD in Philosophy and a Masters Degree in Social Work, has pointed out that guilt is better than shame. The difference, she says, is that guilt says “I did something bad,” while shame says, “I am bad.” Shaming someone can lead to addiction, depression, violence, aggression and bullying – all things that we as a society are trying to prevent.
Our world has changed drastically in the last few decades. Once we were at least a day behind in getting breaking news, now we get information almost instantaneously from CNN, The Daily Mail, Fox News, Twitter, and Facebook — which lasts forever on the internet. It is up to parents to know, to understand, and to be aware that anything posted online becomes public fodder for eternity.
Barbara Lilley writes from Ottawa, Canada.