Public Shaming – Parenting Win or Abuse?

There is outrage on the internet which I’m sure comes as no surprise.

A thirteen year old Tacoma girl ended her life by jumping off of a bridge. Many are blaming the girl’s father for her suicide due to a 15 second video posted on YouTube in which she is shown blankly staring at into the camera with her newly cropped hair. The camera pans to a pile of long dark locks laying on the floor of what looks to be a garage.

The reasons for the hair cut aren’t clear and there are few words said on the video but apparently the girl, Izabel, did something her father found unacceptable and this was the consequence he chose as punishment.

There are reports that Izabel’s father is not the person who uploaded the video to the internet, that it was a family friend. Some of the people chiming in with their opinions didn’t even know Izabel. There will always be people looking for their fifteen seconds and, as a side note, shame on them for choosing a thirteen year old girl’s suicide to find it.

Perhaps it isn’t my place and the story is still developing but I am going to go out on a limb and suggest that there may have been other issues that contributed to Izabel’s suicide. Perhaps this was just the proverbial straw. Only time will tell.

Regardless of who uploaded the video, this is an episode among many of a new found way of punishing our children – public shaming. We’ve all seen the cute little kids in the ‘get along shirt’ and it gave us all a good laugh and we mentally high five the mom because it’s just too damn cute.

But we also see older kids and teens on the street corners or in front of a school with posters and sandwich boards publicly shouting out their infractions, their faces grim and who knows what thoughts reeling through their heads.

At what point does this public shaming become harmful, maybe bordering on abusive? When does this punishment actually fit the crime? What unseen damage is being done?

As a parent, I would never choose to publicly humiliate my child. I believe in consequences but I’m not going to condone adding public, and sometimes possibly viral, humiliation to the tween and teenage psyche that is perhaps already riddled with angst and confusion. That seems to me like throwing fuel on a fire.

When one of my children was younger, they walked out of a store with a pack of gum in their pocket. They have been taught that stealing is wrong and when we do something that isn’t right, there are consequences. I turned the car around, brought my child back to the store, and I waited at the door while they went to the counter and returned the pack of gum to the cashier with an apology. Was that embarrassing? Yes. Did they learn a lesson? Yes. Was it followed up with a good talking to about consequences for their actions? Yes. Was it splattered all over the internet in pictures or video? No.

I understand that the things some kids are doing are more serious than a stolen pack of gum but my point is this:

There is a better way to handle things than putting their face in front of a crowd and risking them feeling that the world sees them as ‘bad’, so why bother to try and be good. Kids will make mistakes, and again I reiterate that there should be consequences, but is adding insult to injury the answer? Or does it only cause more harm?

It is our job to love and protect our children. It is also our job to teach them. Can we not teach them without the world being witness and increasing the feelings of inadequacy, insecurity, or failure they may already be feeling?

I just have to ask…

How many times does this method actually work?

How many times does it backfire?

Perhaps, most importantly….is it worth the risk?


Photo credit: greyerbaby on Morguefile

23 thoughts on “Public Shaming – Parenting Win or Abuse?”

  1. In my opinion humiliating your child does not teach a lesson other than perpetuating bullying. I have never really liked these public videos it seems too much to me like modern day stockades.

    What lesson does it teach our children? If you are bad I will publicly ostracize you? What are the long term consequences? Will it be okay in twenty years to take to Facebook and post a video about my wife being a bitch? The whole thing is unsettling to me because it seems to have long term detrimental effects.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m gonna go a little further out on that limb: I don’t care who uploaded that video. Why was it made? To what offense is cutting off a teenage girl’s hair a logical consequence? I have seen videos where the kid in question is more amused by the parent’s antics than ashamed, I’ll leave those parents to reap what they have sown. But parents who knowingly hurt their children for the amusement of complete strangers on social media – those situations are less about parenting and more about the parent’s narcissistic need for attention. And I need coffee. Lots of coffee……


  3. Public shaming rarely works. Look at our prison system. That being said, there are most definitely those that need to be locked away. But not a teenage child. You do your best to correct them and set them on the right path.


  4. I think the parent who belittles their child in public is an attention seeking bully. The parent who belittles their child in private is a bully. Public shaming is archaic and abusive and any parent who shames their child publicly should have to go through a parenting course, that lasts until their children are grown and on their own.


  5. I completely agree. This child was dealing with demons (and I don’t even want to think of what magnitude) before the incident. But shaming our children is right up there with bullying them, and then we, as a society wonder why we can’t stamp out this sometimes fatal epidemic. Excellent read.


  6. Grrrrr….had left you a long, probably self-indulgent comment, but lost it because WordPress hates me. Anyway, my point was that this child was probably going through some already dark challenges without adding this child abuse (I’m sure there was more where this came from). Parents bully their children and one of two things happens: 1. They do as they have been taught and bully other children or 2. They begin a painful descent into depression. Excellent read.


  7. I would never EVER publicly humiliate my child as a punishment. I see that as a breach of trust.

    However, I inadvertently humiliate my children in public by existing. It’s possible there is singing involved.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. I agree that there has to be consequences, but I have always thought consequences need to be natural in accordance to the bad behaviour and therefore easier to understand and learn from re your gum incident.

    Having even a basic grasp of psychology should indicate that publically shaming a young person online is precarious at best. Seems rather immature and attention seeking to me and that’s from the parents.


  9. Stumbled on your post from a tweet. It’s a good reminder of the consequences of public shaming – especially for children. I like what you did to make your kids apologise for stealing. That shd be a good enough lesson, without further shaming them publicly.


  10. I don’t think it teaches kids anything other than they can’t go to their parents when they screw up, they need to hide whatever they did, and lie about it, or else… kids need consequences, but they also need a safe haven.


  11. I am all for consequences. As an adult I try to be very mindful of discussing discipline I have done with my child, with her in ear shot. I think we as parents need to vent. However I was the child standing there while my mother Smuggly told anyone who was nearby what I had done wrong.


  12. public shaming (or any form of public discipline involving yelling or severe disciplinary actions) makes me VERY uncomfortable. Aside from hushed reprimands (my whisper-yelling done at Target before I lose my shit, for instance) or things of that nature where you have to deal with something right that second, I deal with discipline as privately as possible.


  13. I had instances when I was shamed by my parents when I was a child and I still remember every one of them clearly and with much anger. I realize that my parents were frustrated and just trying to find a way to deal with me — but it’s something that impacted me in a negative way and ultimately affected my relationship with my folks for years and years.


  14. Sandy, I get it. When I was four, I walked out of the Jewel-Osco with a bubblegum lip gloss in my pocket. When we arrived home, I held it in my little hand and showed my mother. It was near Christmas and my parents told me that 1) stealing was “the awful terrible” and 2) the local jail was deciding whether or not it was necessary for me to show up the next day.

    I remember sitting and listening to my Chipmunks Christmas album over and over and over again waiting for the jail’s verdict. The next morning, the “jail” called and said it wasn’t necessary for me to show up (they were full, but would find a space if it happened again) and was promptly driven to the store and made to apologize to the manager for the theft.

    It was a traumatic event (along with a few choice others my parents dreamed up), but I never stole again.

    Never. ever.

    With heart,


  15. Oh I hadn’t even heard of Izabel’s story 😦 but I agree and will never publicly shame my son. Ever. I can understand why parents go there, and I am not sure about the effectiveness but personally, not happening in this house. By the way, when I was about seven, I got caught with a stolen pack of Juicy Fruit gum (we were only allowed Trident) and my parents made me go back in the store and return it, too. I still remember.


  16. I think we could co-parent together. I am all about consequences and accountability. But public shame? A child my daughter goes to school with posted something her mother objected to on Instagram. That mother not only took over the account and told all of the girl’s followers (?) about her punishment, she then posted it on Facebook and Twitter. Now, as a kind of dictator/mom my first question was why did you allow your 11YO on social media and second question: why are you surprised they acted inappropriately?

    To me, the public shaming is saying to the world MY kid did this but it wasn’t my fault because I am now parenting after the fact.

    UGH sorry, this just strikes a cord with me!


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