The 15-second video was posted on YouTube just a few days ago. It showed 13-year-old Izabel Laxamana standing in a room, while the camera pans to a mess of long dark hair on the floor. You hear a man’s voice shouting at her: “The consequences of getting messed up? Man, you lost all that beautiful hair. Was it worth it?” You can barely hear her responses. The reason behind Laxamana’s public disciplining is unknown. Yesterday, news outlets reported that the Tacoma, Washington teen attempted suicide on Friday, May 29 after she exited a car and jumped off a highway overpass onto Interstate 5. She died in hospital from her injuries the following day.
Suicide is complicated. We can’t presume to understand the myriad reasons that can lead someone to make such a decision. However, the public-shaming video posted by her father has been suggested as the main factor in her death. This case is an extreme example of what is becoming an increasingly popular mode of discipline for parents: public shaming. Parents sometimes turn to social media to teach their children a lesson, often to the Internet’s delight.
It first started occurring around 2012, when a North Carolina father shot his 15-year-old daughter’s laptop in a discipline approach he called “tough love.” The video, posted on YouTube, garnered more than 40 million views and worldwide media attention. His daughter’s misstep? She’d ranted on Facebook about the chores her parents tasked her with.
More recently, there was the Colorado mom who filmed herself discipling her 13-year-old daughter for posing in lingerie and trying to pass as a 19-year-old on Facebook. The video went viral. Last month, an Alabama mom posted a Facebook apology on behalf of her two teenage daughters, who’d been rude to another customer at a local movie theatre. The letter was shared hundreds of times and her daughters apologized on TV. While the other examples courted controversy, many people lauded the Alabama mom for getting her daughters to apologize. I’ll admit, though, I’m uncomfortable with her good intentions—just as I’m uncomfortable with any form of discipline on social media.
Social media is not private, even if you post something to a small group of friends. Sharing a humiliating Facebook message, YouTube clip, or Instagram photo of your kids is the same as yelling at them on your front lawn—only multiplied by the global population. You cannot control where your message goes or how many people will view it. Maybe it works sometimes and your kid changes his ways, but I don’t think your teen will ever truly get over a humiliation on that grand a scale.
Public shaming is not discipline. It humiliates a young person about a mistake they’ve made. It doesn’t lead to better behaviour—if anything, it probably leads to a decreased sense of self-worth. Dr. Brene Brown has an Oprah-level career writing about the damage that shame causes people. She writes in The Gifts of Imperfection, “Shame, blame, disrespect, betrayal, and the withholding of affection damage the roots from which love grows. Love can only survive these injuries if they are acknowledged, healed and rare.”
Parenting in the digital age is hard, and our kids understand the Internet a whole lot better than we do. I understand why, in a fit of anger, parents may want to turn the tables and use the power of social media to teach their child a lesson. But it isn’t right. Unfortunately, when it comes to discipline, the easy and quick answer is rarely the correct one. We have to set a good example for our kids, and if we don’t want them to bully, humiliate and shame their peers, then we have to avoid those same behaviours ourselves.
I think the tide is turning against the trend—there’s a new viral video features a dad declaring the hypocrisy of public shaming. It’s tragic that it took the death of a young girl for parents to see that public shaming is a dangerous parenting technique. And even if you would never shame your own child on social media, think twice before sharing or “liking” a post of a parent who has resorted to using the Internet to discipline their wayward kids. It’s bad parenting, and it’s time for it to stop.