Online bullying is a problem that’s plaguing our society. Perhaps made more evident by the actions of adults in this no-holds-bar world of tweet storms and Facebook attacks, online bullying doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. But now experts say that parents can actually bully their own children online – even before those children have social media accounts.
We’ve all seen the signs – literally. A parent posts a photo of their child or children on social media holding a sign that’s meant to embarrass them as a form of punishment.
Online Shaming By Parents Is Bullying
Parenting expert and Toronto family counsellor Alyson Schafer said this is actually a form of online bullying and something that needs to stop.
“Unfortunately, that’s not the way discipline works,” she said in an interview with the CBC. “When we use punitive [measures] — and in this case, extremely punitive because this is public shaming and humiliation — it’s not only shredding the relationship between the parent and child, but it’s also damaging the child’s self-esteem and is very hurtful to the soul.”
The debate was sparked again recently when a mom in Canada made her two sons walk more than four miles carrying a cardboard sign saying:
BEING BAD AND
RUDE TO OUR
MOMS MAKIN US WALK
She posted the photo on Facebook and it quickly went viral. The mother said she administered the punishment after she received a call from the boys’ school saying if their behavior didn’t improve they would no longer be able to ride the bus.
The mother walked with the boys on the walk and said she wanted to help them understand that riding the bus is a privilege.
Charles Helwig, a professor of developmental psychology at the University of Toronto, told the CBC that research has shown putting the photo online adds to potential embarrassment and is harmful.
“When you put it on social media, it’s essentially permanent, so it’s something that can come back to haunt the children throughout their lives,” he said. “Publicizing it in this way is something that can’t be taken back.”
He added that in “psychological control” as a means of trying to improve behavior is also associated with an increased incidence of depression and anxiety in children.
According to new research published in the March edition of Trends in Cognitive Sciences children as young as 5-years-old begin to care about their reputations and kids will change their behavior based up how they believe it will impact their overall image.
Schafer said kids can’t differentiate between their behavior and themselves as a person, so they hear, “I’m bad,” when really it was the action that’s undesirable. This can result in kids believing they’re unlovable and effect their own self-worth.
So what can you do?
Separate the action from the person
Schafer said she tries to separate “the deed from the doer.” For instance, parents can say, “I love you but I don’t like how you’re (fill in the blank),” Even really young children can understand this and it reinforces their lovability.
Gain an understanding of the psychological reasons behind the actions
Understanding the reason behind the action is vital. Were the kids on the bus trying to impress their friends? What were the kids attempting to gain in acting that way?
“We have to find out what the psychological underpinnings are of the child’s motivations and help him understand,” Schafer said. “Give him the skill sets to find his sense of importance and belonging through constructive means.”
Explain the reasons why the behavior was inappropriate
Long-term parents should explain why the behavior was wrong and help your child understand the other side of the perspective, said Helwig. Ask, “How would you feel if this were done to you?”
Children will respond more better to this than online shaming and be more likely to be more positively impacted.
Seek professional assistance
If the behavior continues to go on and on Helwig suggests that parents seek professional help in dealing with children.
If it, “is indicative of some broad pattern that isn’t being brought under control, then the parent should seek professional assistance,” he said. “It might be a reflection of something else going on.”