I don’t know a mother whose children, at one time or another, haven’t been rude to her in front of her friends. It’s painful when they are. We’re usually embarrassed, but most of us do not respond by publicly humiliating our children.
One Ohio mother decided to do just that after her daughter talked back. She swapped the daughter’s Facebook profile picture for one of her with a red “X” over her mouth and the caption, “I do not know how to keep my mouth shut. I am no longer allowed on Facebook or my phone. Please ask why. My mother says I have to answer everyone that asks.”
Which prompts me to ask — is public, or private for that matter, humiliation a good parenting strategy?
“No,” Julie Hanks, owner and clinical director of Wasatch Family Therapy, said on “A Woman’s View.” “Public humiliation is never a good parenting strategy. Peers do that really well. Parenting methods when the parent becomes like the child are not effective. For instance, if the child is throwing a tantrum in the middle of the store, we shouldn’t throw a tantrum in the middle of the store. We should model adult behavior.”
Check. Don’t throw a tantrum in the middle of Target.
“It’s important not to give your kids that much power over you. I have four kids, and every one of them has said, 'I hate you.’ ”
Whew. Feeling better already.
“Emotionally mature people don’t post these kinds of things on Facebook. It’s not healthy for kids to think they have that much control over their parents.”
I hadn’t thought about it that way. That Ohio mother’s response is so immature. It turns over too much control to the daughter. It says, in essence, your talking back to me hurt me so much that I can’t get control of my emotions.
“As much as I understand the mother’s frustration, you’ve heard of the mothers who leave their kids on the side of the road with a sign that says ‘I stole.’ We need to not bully our kids,” Jennifer Merback, communications and marketing director for the Utah and Nevada Heart Association, added. “We need to give consequences, set boundaries.”
“Yes,” Hanks agreed. “Parents need to take back their kids’ digital lives. The rule in my house is if you’re a minor, there is no privacy. The world has access to it, so should I.”
So, in this case, what would the right response have been?
“Sometimes I have to give myself a timeout while my daughter is in timeout,” Merback admitted. “And I think you can say to your child, ‘That really hurt me.’ I think it’s OK to be honest about your feelings.”
I have heard a hundred times, there are only three ways to teach a child anything: example, example, example. In this case, the mother was teaching her child to bully, to throw a tantrum, to be immature, to be hurtful. Those can’t be the lessons she wanted to teach.
If she wanted to model an adult, loving response, what would that have looked like? Let’s think. She would have waited until she was home, away from the situation, and then had a private conversation. She would have said, firmly but lovingly, “The first thing I want to tell you is that I love you, even when you do things that upset me. What you said earlier in front of my friends really hurt my feelings. It’s disrespectful for you to talk like that to me, ever, and especially in front of others. There are consequences for disrespecting your mother. Those consequences are the loss of privileges. You’ll be losing your cellphone and access to Facebook for one week.”
All in a calm voice. All without anger or bullying or embarrassing her in front of her friends. This isn’t about retribution. It’s about learning.
It’s our job as parents to protect our children from bullies, not to become the bully. Oh, I have such empathy for the mother in Ohio. How many times have I felt pushed to the edge in my parenting? If it wasn’t for the steadying hand of my husband or my best friend, always there to help pull me back, I can only imagine what mistakes I would make. Perhaps this mother does not have such calming influences in her life. I send her love in my thoughts.
And her daughter.
We’re all just doing the best we can. But we can always do better than humiliation. What hurts my daughter can never help me.