While many use the popular social network Facebook to keep in touch with friends, advertise businesses and events, share news or even to vent, one parent is using it to discipline her daughter by having her post her punishment online for committing what she calls an irresponsible act. A few weeks ago a picture began circulating on the network, showing a photo of a young girl with her face barely blocked off from just a little above the nose upward. The girl appeared to be crying while holding up a piece of paper which read: “Since I want to post photos of me holding liquor, I am obviously not ready for social media and will be taking a hiatus until I learn what I should not post.” It immediately attracted comments, the majority of which supported the mother’s approach. The few who disagreed felt although the child needed to be punished, doing it in such a public forum was inappropriate.
The T&T Guardian spoke with psychologist Dr Eugenia Springer who said one can see both sides, but in the end the method of discipline used must be one that will help the child to positively understand their wrong so that they can become better decision-makers in the long run. Springer said the authority of a parent is not the only influence standing anymore in regard to directing and guiding a child. She said children are even more so now, guided by outside influences, whether it’s their peers, television, or social networks. She added parents cannot really enforce rules. “Parents’ ability to rule their roof and guide their children is being challenged because of all the outside influences that are also schooling them.
“They must realize that you can force children to behave in a particular manner and you can restrict them from using Facebook, or whatever it is that you have decided to restrict them from, but you cannot enforce that. A child can find their own way around getting to that very thing they are being restricted from,” she warns. She says in the case of the child on Facebook, she can re-enter the network unknowing to her parents under a different name and therein lies the danger. She said although the parent’s approach is not something she would have done, she understood the level of anger on the parent’s part especially if she felt the child betrayed her trust. “Children must have their own built-in limits and they must understand what it is to preserve the family name also. However, I maintain that neither part must be judged,” said Springer.
Shame is not the game
“Under no circumstances do we deliberately shame our children!” That’s what Springer believes. She says what the parent has done can actually cause more harm than good. “I don’t believe in shaming children, but keeping their sense of worth intact,” says Springer. She explained, because no one can teach you how to be a parent and it is a process by which you learn as you grow, it is easy for parents to use methods of punishment that seem suitable to them, but what might not be necessarily helpful to a child. “You must never discipline your children in rage as this often ends in regret and resentment. A child who is often punished in rage tend to seek comfort from outside influences. This may cause some trouble because it’s a situation that really provides an unnecessary and unwanted alternative for children,” says Springer.
She said what the parent should have done was to have a conversation with that child to find out what was/were the underlying reasons for the child’s actions. “Judging from what was done, this parent is obviously someone who pays attention to what their child is doing. However, even the most inclined and strictest of parents can miss details at times. This does not mean that you are a bad parent or you failed at being a good one. It just means that parents are not super heroes as society often forces them to believe that they should be,” Springer advised.
Acknowledge a child's feelings
Springer said a parent's job is not to build a reputation of notoriety for their children based on what they have done. "Everybody's on these social networks nowadays. School has reopened. What about if her peers saw that photo? What would they do to her when she returns to school? What about how her teachers would view her? "In correcting our children we must think about what are the most appropriate ways to do so, otherwise we can actually be contributing to rebellious behaviour," she reiterated. "Always let your child know that you acknowledge their feelings and give them a reason for why you have chosen a particular method of punishment. Also allow them to tell you if they find it to be fair or not. This will spark conversation and may even get the child to own up to their faults. It will also give parents an idea of how their children think," said Springer.
Springer said she believes the mother should first remove the photo from Facebook as it is still online. Secondly, she should have a conversation with her to find out what really drove her to doing such a thing, while consistently reminding her how wonderful she was created and how fortunate she felt to have been given the opportunity to be her parent. Thirdly, she should allow her back on the network. "Allowing her back on the network would send the message that you are confident she has learned her lesson and she will not indulge in irresponsible behaviour again. It would also be an added conviction on the child's part, because that child will now think twice before they do anything that would ruin their own reputation or hurt parents. "The child might even on their own, apologize publicly for what they did in due time. "The right discipline teaches a child how to become a better person, but it is also sends a very strong message to them, that they are loved and appreciated and protected," said Springer.