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Public Punishment Hurts Kids

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It does more harm than good, in this mom's opinion.

Wendy Walsh: Recently, an 11-year-old boy in California was punished for "not respecting authority" by being forced to stand at a busy street corner for three hours holding up a sign of apology. His parents thought this painful injection of shame would somehow make him a better person. My opinion is that they were dead wrong.


Shame. It's one of those uncomfortable emotions that parents sometimes use to instill a sense of guilt -- as a behavioral shaping technique. A little shame can sometimes do that: create guilt. And a little guilt isn't a bad thing to carry inside us. It stays with us and functions as part of our internal boundary system. When joined with another valuable emotion -- empathy -- it can stop us from hurting others or acting out selfish behaviors that deny the needs of others.

The problem is that too much shame can do the opposite. And no one knows how much is too much for each individual child. In the short-term, studies show that shame doesn't work. Shame-based parenting usually results in increased negative behaviors. And in the long-term, it can be linked to major personality disorders. Shame is such a terrible emotion to experience that it often gets buried underground and bubbles up disguised as narcissism. Shame is the underside of a narcissistic personality disorder -- you know, the people who can't even imagine that anyone else has a need or a feeling; the people who appear to be "in love" with themselves and demand a lot of attention. In actuality, their behavior is a defense against deep feelings of shame and self-loathing.

So, is it ever safe to use shame as a parenting technique? My advice is no. Kids are shamed enough. Every parent unknowingly instills plenty of shame just by shooting a condemning glance or a critical word in the direction of a child. Peers instill lots of shame. Teachers with their public behavior charts instill shame. Punishment that involves additional public shame on top of private family shame can be dangerous, damaging and have lifelong effects. My advice is always: Water what you want to grow. Do not water weeds. Praise good behavior. Give little attention to bad behavior, and your child's internal garden of emotions will flourish in a healthy way.

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11 comments so far | Post a comment now
matt April 1, 2010, 11:22 AM

this is complete bullshit mind your own business and don’t tell others how to parent

Sara April 1, 2010, 11:30 AM

Something like that offers the kid just what he wanted. Attention

johnsonj3 April 1, 2010, 12:29 PM

Good for the parents, should have wash his mouth out with soap this is what we used to get coming up.

so there April 1, 2010, 12:53 PM

A little humility and respect can go long way— and what goes around comes around…..These parents seem to have done a good job…

chris April 1, 2010, 2:38 PM

It seems that you’re damned if you do something and damned if you do nothing. Atleast his parents didn’t whip his behind, which I hear is the norm for most black parents. And before people call me racist, just look up Kimberly Seals (here on Momlogic) post about spanking children.

Chrissy April 1, 2010, 7:23 PM

“Give little attention to bad behavior” is bad advice. Kids will always pushed boundaries. If you ignore the bad behaviour they will escalate. Then when you only respond to the escalation, they will think everything before that was okay.

Monica April 1, 2010, 9:44 PM

Chris, the appropriate thing would have been not to say it at all. Because then you wasted an extra sentence trying add a disclaimer. The first sentence was sufficient enough.

Monica April 1, 2010, 9:52 PM

As with anything that has to do with parenting and punishment you have to use good judgment. Was the type of parenting over the top? No not necessarily. They didn’t need to make him stand there for hours. Maybe an hour was enough. Did the point get across? Most likely it did. They chose to do what they thought would get the point across. Kudos to the parents for taking the initiative now to teach their child how to respect authority and how important it is.

JustMe April 2, 2010, 9:16 AM

If that’s what it takes for the kid to respect his teachers, it works for me.

Anonymous April 2, 2010, 11:09 PM

I think the parents took it to extreme. To me that’s abuse making a child stand outside three hours. What did he do that was so terrible? The story doesn’t say. A lot of people in authority do terrible things; probably much worse then that boy. Do they stand on street corners holding an apology sign???

Anonymous April 5, 2010, 7:40 AM

The parents are dead on. We are all way to soft and mushy with kids now. We make up all sorts of “disorders” and issues to excuse away their bad behavoir. I guarantee that boy won’t do what he did again.

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