Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Ain't It a Shame

When your child is a baby, there are these wonderful moments of sheer bliss, utter calm, pure love. Of course, there are all kinds of frustrations too. These typically revolve around such issues as sleep deprivation, fussiness, sleep deprivation, monotony and, yes, sleep deprivation.

As your tiny tyke begins to grow, the frustrations change. Tantrums take over. Or school brings a whole new set of worries. Bullies, un-understanding teachers, new feelings of disappointment, exclusion, anxiety. But I still look back on all those years through decidedly rose colored glasses.

Basically, you don't realize how easy any of these times are because they feel anything but easy while you're going through them.

But nothing, I mean nothing, compares to the frustration of trying to control a teenager. Control? Ha. Try fathom. It is simply impossible. Simply. Impossible.

Make a concerted effort to give clear, consistent direction? It doesn't matter. Here's an example from last night in my own happy home:

What I said: "Go put your clean clothes away and come right back down so we can talk about your English essay."

What she heard: "Meander upstairs, browse the latest issue of Seventeen; Instagram your fifty closest friends; try on your new green nail polish. Only come down again when your parents yell up at you. Oh, and forget to put away the laundry."

If only there was a to translate parent into teen and back again.

The good news, I guess, is that she seems to talk back less than she did. But, if blank looks could kill, I'd be one majorly murdered mamma. I swear, sometimes I think I must be speaking (let's face it, yelling in) another language altogether. 

My point, I guess, is this. YES, I get it. Teens can frequently frustrate the hell out of us. That's why I kinda sorta understand why there seems to be a trend emerging in which parents punish their wayward offspring through public humiliation. I do understand it. But, I don't agree with it.

The news stories are funny (and, I can only imagine that there are millions of moms and dads nodding in recognition every time one comes on). There was the ill-fated tween shoplifter who had to wear a tee shirt that read "Hide your money. Hide your clothes. Hide everything. Cuz I'm A Thief." There was a slightly older girl who was forced to stand on a street corner with a sign that said "I sneak boys in at 3 a.m. and disrespect my parents and grandparents."

The most recent story was a dad who had a tee shirt made with his angry face on it and the dare "Try me!!" His daughter had to wear the shirt to school for a week after breaking curfew. The father also posted a picture (he's smiling; she's not) and full explanation on social media.

The posting part of the story is certainly the most timely (and well may be the most embarrassing for the teenage perps involved). Today, we all "live out loud" online. No one more so than teens. The idea that the Internet exists solely for their benefit — to share their successes and (apparently) their defeats — feels true to our kids. In fact, I sometimes wonder if anything that happens in their analog lives feels real until it's also out for the world (and world wide web) to see.

So, I get the frustration and I even get the effectiveness of the communications channel. But, I disagree with the bigger concept. Does shaming really work? Does it dissuade bad behavior? Or does it simply plant and nurture an acute sense of rage and helplessness? 

My gut tells me it's the latter. But, I wouldn't know because my parents never publicly shamed me. And I never will my daughter.

Quick. Someone find Hester Prynne and ask her. She'll tell you.

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