Public humiliation has come a long way for centuries. Parishes in olden days forced people to wear huge, heavy rosaries to show other parishioners that they were late to church services. People gave horrible musicians a “shame flute” and forced them to play it in front of them. In literature, Hester Prynne wore an embroidered scarlet “A” on her chest for committing adultery in the novel, The Scarlet Letter.
In recent times, parents have taken the cues from old times and created signs for the kids to wear when they do something wrong. Then they have placed them on the street corners to tell the world that they did something bad. Some people walking, driving, roller-skating, or biking by them may be outraged, while some people honk or wave at them to praise the parents’ good parenting skills.
Well, one Tampa family was no exception to those practicing disciplining children in public.
A teenager was doing poorly in middle school. His parents tried everything to improve his grades: asking him to see his homework, helping him, taking away his cell phone, grounded him, and lectured him. But he lied to his parents, telling them things like, “That school doesn’t give homework,” or “That teacher has a problem with me.” He was failing math and history.
The last straw for the parents finally came when he had an “F” on his report card – for physical education. The father wrote on the poster board, “I did 4 questions on my FCAT (Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test) and said I wasn’t going to do it … GPA 1.22 … honk if I need (an) education.” He made the teen wear it and display it on the corner of East Hillsborough Avenue and North 22nd Street. People honked in response, as the sign noted, and it became a top story on local TV evening news.
While some parents wanted to pat the teen’s parents on the back for their good parenting, many experts dislike the idea. Terry Field of the Florida Department of Children and Families called it a bizarre punishment.
Clinical psychologists agreed with Field’s opinion. One of them, Arlinda Amos, noted that having a child hold up a sign for having a 1.22 GPA has an adverse effect on his self-esteem. “It definitely would fall within the category of emotional abuse. It’s shame, embarrassment and humiliation. This will be a lifelong memory for him,” she said.
University of South Florida pediatrician Dr. Peter Gorski also found the punishment humiliating as well as unmotivating, especially for those caught plagiarizing. “It’s such an unfortunate strategy, and of course it’s ineffective. The key to motivating children is to balance responsibility with support, and balance is the important part.”
Donald Wertlieb, a Tufts University clinical psychologist, once pointed out the ineffectiveness of one mother’s punishment. She made her daughter hold up a sign that said, “I don’t do my homework and I act up in school, so my parents are preparing me for my future. Will work for food,” because she was tardy, talked back to her teachers, and like the Tampa teen, had bad grades.
“The trick is to catch them being good,” said Wertlieb of the punishment, “It sounds like this mother has not had a chance to catch her child being good or is so upset over seeing her be bad, that’s where the focus is.”
Probably, he might say the same thing about the recent and similar one.
There are more effective punishments than having a kid in the pillories, which are signs that read, “I have a level 1 on the FCAT.” I don’t support spanking, but I’d rather take that over a scarlet letter (regarding the bad grades) on poster board any day.
Tiffany J. L. Alfonso, “Is Public Humiliation a Good Way to Discipline Children?,” Socyberty.
Robbyn Mitchell, “Mom puts son on Tampa street corner to tell of poor grades,” St. Petersburg Times.
Sean Murphy, “Mom Makes Teen Stand on Street With Sign,” Washington Post.