My generation, the one that came of age shortly after dinosaurs stopped roaming the earth, was punished with paddlings. Both at school and at home, teachers and parents responded to serious misdeeds with swift swats. I only recall a couple of spankings and I can’t say that’s what molded me into a solid citizen. But I also can’t say they led me to alcoholic ruin or incipient bed wetting.
Kids coming up in the next few decades, mine included, were the Timeout Generations. Punishment was solitary banishment for what, at our house, was generally a minute for every year of age. It was spent not in a living room corner or in a bedroom full of toys and books, but in the most boring room in the house: the bathroom. Five minutes spent starting at a guilty face in the mirror can seem like forever to a kindergartener.
Now comes the next discipline incarnation: The Shamed Generation. It seems to be growing in popularity, fueled by social media. News reports began featuring images of children, mostly middle-schoolers, standing out in public. One held a sign reading, “Do not trust me. I will steal from you as I am a thief.”
A Florida 13 year-old was made to stand on a busy street corner with this sign: “I’m a Self-entitled teenager w/no Respect for authority. I’m also super smart, yet I have 3 ‘D’s’ because I DON’T CARE.”
A North Carolina father posted a You Tube video in which he shot his 15 year-old daughter’s laptop after she wrote a bratty, profanity-laced Facebook entry complaining about having to do chores. The video has been viewed over 37 million times.
So what was accomplished by these displays? Did the kid with sticky fingers stop stealing? Did the snotty seventh-grader start showing respect and hitting the books? Did the dishes get washed without complaint?
I doubt it.
Now I read of a woman in Utah who punished her live-in boyfriend’s daughter for bullying another child about her appearance by forcing her to wear “ugly” thrift shop clothes to school so she could see how it felt to be teased about her appearance. Wait a minute. She was hoping other kids will be bullies so this kid would learn a lesson?
Keep in mind, the fashion choices the woman made would have been ghastly whether they had come from a thrift store or a local department store. She went shopping for the antithesis of fourth-grade style.
Of course, TV reports gave the story a happy, feel-good spin. After spending two days wearing the resale clothing, during which she teased by others, the child was quoted by ABC News as saying; ““I (was) like, why would they do that to me. I’m still a normal person. It doesn’t matter what you wear.” And the icing on the cake: She and the girl she bullied are now BFFs, “like sisters.” Anybody buying that?
Certainly, it’s not surprising that I take offense at this particular approach to punishment since I’ve spent almost three decades in the resale clothing business. To me, buying and wearing preowned clothing isn’t shameful. It’s smart and frugal.
After all, according to research from the Pew Charitable Trusts, for the first time ever, the upcoming generation will not be more well-off financially than their parents. They are inheriting a different world and a different reality than what the adults of today were handed. It’s our job to prepare them for that reality. The best way is to be proactive parents rather than reactive ones.
Compare that Utah mom to a family I know here in Gainesville. They’re have five kids, all middle- and high-school ages. Every fall and spring they go shopping for clothes. Each child is given a budget with the understanding that they can buy whatever they like (within reason, of course) but they must know that there will be no more purchases until the next season. They have to live with their choices.
To paraphrase Fredrick Douglas, it’s easier to build strong children than to repair broken adults (or middle-schoolers, for that matter.) I’m no parenting expert but I do know that the key to successful child-rearing is consistency. Rules are rules and infractions are always dealt with in the same way. And, yes, given the three discipline choices (spanking, timeout and shaming) I’m a strong supporter of timeouts.
All you need remember is that Behavior A always results in Consequence B. It’s really that simple. It won’t get you a viral video or a few minutes on the “Today” show but you’ll increase the chances of ending up with well-behaved, sensible kids — the ones who will never have a picture taken holding a shaming sign.
Teressa Glazer is a Gainesville businesswoman. Her column appears biweekly on Fridays and at gainesvilletimes.com/viewpoint.