Parents posting videos online of punishments is not a new phenomenon, but it appears we’re seeing more lately – and the methods are increasing in severity. Currently, over 30,000 such clips online show things like one mom forcing her son to drink hot sauce and take a freezing cold shower; a dad cutting off his daughter’s long hair; and another dad making his child run a mile to school in the rain with his backpack while he followed behind in a car.
First, it is important to realize that almost all parents want what is best for their children. At times, parents resort to more extreme forms of punishment because they’re stressed and out of ideas. They fear that their children’s behavior will worsen if they don’t hold them accountable. With technology at the fingertips of every parent and child, this becomes an easy means to show some “tough love.” For the woman now known as “Hot Sauce Mom,” her son was adopted and had behavioral concerns. Mom felt she had tried everything else and was desperate. But are these punishments effective?
The discipline in many of these videos is a form of bullying and can be considered physical abuse. In fact, “Hot Sauce Mom” was convicted of child abuse charges. There is also a growing body of research about the long-term implications and impact of abuse, trauma, and adverse childhood experiences. For example, children who suffer abuse in childhood are at greater risk for depression, suicide, incarceration, and becoming perpetrators of violence. In other words, we learn what we are taught.
The posting of the videos on social media is shaming and emotional abuse. When parents humiliate children instead of protecting them, there is significant and potentially irreversible damage to the parent-child relationship. Children may feel unlovable and bad. Further, shaming can have a negative impact on a child’s self-esteem and mood with lifelong consequences including increased anxiety and depression.
Children respect adults who respect them. Therefore, to live by the mantra “Treat others how you want to be treated,” could not be truer. When children misbehave, parents can look to it as an opportunity to rebuild a connection. Learn WHY your child acted out whether it was a lie or bullying. Help children learn alternatives and brainstorm better coping strategies. Also, help children learn empathy by trying to walk in another person’s shoes. In this case, help your child consider how the bullying felt to the victim.
Above all else, show your child love through discipline. For example, when taking away privileges such as screen time, explain it’s because you’re disappointed in the choice, not that you don’t love them. This shows children that you take the misbehavior seriously, but you still care and value them. Use positive praise whenever possible to show children you appreciate and recognize their positive efforts. Positive praise should be provided significantly more frequently than any criticisms. These strategies will more likely elicit positive behaviors than strategies that make a child terrified of you. Parents, be sure to walk in your child’s shoes as well. If a strategy you are considering doesn’t feel loving, find another way.
Erbacher is also author of the text Suicide in Schools: A Practitioner’s Guide to Multi-level Prevention, Assessment, Intervention, and Postvention.