A 10-year-old girl was forced to walk five miles to school this week after getting kicked off the bus for bullying. This is not national news, or shouldn’t be. There’s no reason why I need to know about the disciplinary measures taken against a 5th grader in Ohio. But it became a matter for public consumption because her dad, who meted out the punishment, decided that he needed to capture it on video and post the footage to Facebook.
The father, Matt Cox, drove behind his daughter, filmed her as she trudged along slowly, and narrated the event for the sake of the viewing audience. The video has since earned 15 million views on Facebook. Much of the reaction has been very positive, with people congratulating Cox on his wonderful parenting. Mission accomplished.
Personally, I see nothing wrong with the punishment. It’s good to discipline your children. I wish more parents would do so. Five miles in freezing temperatures might be a bit extreme, but maybe the harshness was warranted. I don’t know. I’m just a spectator. And that’s precisely the problem: Why did this father feel the need to include millions of spectators? Why does he need our approval and input? Discipline your child, yes, but why do you need to post it to Facebook?
This has become something of a trend. In recent years, plenty of parents have converted these kinds of disciplinary moments into viral videos. I can’t say I’ve ever felt inclined in that direction. I’ve never put my son in timeout for talking back to his mother and then thought to myself, “Wait, let me grab my phone. This is great content!” But this seems to be the thought process of many parents.
Of course, they will claim that they are shaming their children online for entirely benevolent reasons. They are “raising awareness” about bullying or giving other parents tips on how to handle misbehavior. I don’t buy that excuse for a moment. But even if I did, it’s still a stupid and pointless practice. We are all aware of bullying. We are all aware of the concept of disciplining our kids. Perhaps some parents don’t do a very good job of it, but I doubt that will change because they saw a viral video of a 10-year-old girl walking down the street.
In any case, as I said, I don’t really believe that these parents are doing this for posterity. I think they’re doing it because they want attention. Most of all, they want other parents to congratulate them on their amazing parenting skills. And invariably they will end up getting exactly that reaction. A smashing success. They get a bunch of high fives and all they had to do was humiliate their children in front of the entire world.
Now, I fully believe that a certain amount of embarrassment and shame must sometimes be attached to punishments. Walking five miles to school is already an embarrassing thing for a child. Her friends will tease her. The kids she bullied will get a nice laugh out of it. That is a very localized and temporary kind of shaming that will ultimately work to her benefit. She is made to be mildly embarrassed in front of the people she embarrassed through her bullying, and through that experience hopefully she will learn a valuable lesson.
But shaming her in front of the entire world? Bringing millions of unrelated people into the situation? Opening her up to the vile and vicious comments of anonymous strangers? Putting a video online that will be there forever? Ensuring that this moment lives on eternally in cyberspace? What good does any of that serve? It seems to serve only one good, which isn’t really a good at all: the flattery of the parent who posts it on Facebook.
There is a word for humiliating someone in order to make yourself look good. It’s called bullying. I guess we know where the daughter learned it.