Maybe you've seen it--the now-viral video dad Matt Cox posted to show the world he took bullying seriously, and didn't want his daughter to have any part of it. In his video, he films his ten-year-old daughter walking the five-mile walk she has to school (in near freezing-temperatures, no less) --which is the 'natural consequence' she suffered when she was kicked off the school bus for bullying.
Cox tells the Interwebs that their family takes bullying is unacceptable, especially in his house. He believes his daughter walking and feeling what she lost in the warmth of the bus because she was bullying is not only an acceptable punishment, but one worthy of the over 19 million people who have watched it also viewing. He hoped to teach her parents taking their kids to school was a privilege, not a right, and that bullying isn't ever okay.
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Which leads many parents like me to wonder--isn't Cox essentially bullying his daughter in the process? It's one thing to bring about punishment, whether we'd agree on the punishment or not. But there's something about publicly airing her 'punishment' as a 'deterrent' that seems almost as if he's bullying her in the process. No, bullying is not acceptable--ever. But much like researchers agree that spanking isn't an answer to children hitting other people (or in general as a punishment), airing his daughter's distress for the world to see 'to show her what it feels like,' doesn't necessarily scream, "Be kind and respectful to all people."
At the core, bullying is humiliating and makes a life-long impact. I'd venture to say that this ten-year-old's humiliation will go with her for a while with all the views (and publicity surrounding it) it has received. And the sad thing is that while Cox is taking a noble stand against bullying, he's in essence showing the world where his daughter might just have seen that bullying behavior she's being punished for modeled in the first place.
Dr. Gary Walters is a psychology professor at the University of Toronto. He has studied and conducted much research on the effects of various parenting techniques --particularly those considered abusive. Citing a case in 2015 where a teenaged girl committed suicide after being publicly shamed by her father, Walters says that the public shaming and humiliation of children by their parents is emotional abuse.
Based on decades of his own research, Walters says that children who suffer from a lot of humiliation in their life tend to fare more poorly as adults--with more self-doubt and depression. He says that it can affect their relationships with other people and in girls, can often lead them to abusive relationships because they don't feel they deserve to be treated differently.
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And while I think all parents would agree that parenting a child is the toughest job they've ever had--when we resort to humiliation, though effective in the moment for stopping a specific action, we are at the core doing the very same thing we are punishing our child for in the first place. I do not doubt that Mr. Cox loves his daughter and wants her to learn that bullying isn't acceptable. But such public shaming--for bullying, no less?
It just doesn't work.