When I was a kid, my normally full-time working mother spent several weeks at home convalescing after a long illness. When she went back to work, I protested by pooping on the lawn. Another time, soon after I was potty trained, I got stuck in the toilet bowl after sitting down without a kid seat on. You know where you won’t see those pictures? The Internet. Thank God.
In a lot of ways, the Internet has made parenting a monumentally easier task. We can use Facebook to schedule play dates, google any real or imagined illnesses our kids may have, order more diapers from our phone during a late night nursing session or use it to write a blog post (you have one guess how I’m writing this).
Unfortunately, there are a number of parents who use the Internet’s reach to shame their children. Some do it by posting pictures of toddler temper tantrums on Facebook, others put ridiculous letters their kids write on Reddit, and others still post videos on YouTube. There is no shortage of ways to embarrass your children online.
It is often done out of love, without considering the fact that one day these kids will grow up to realize their entire childhood was documented and published without their permission on websites which now own their likenesses. A cute school picture is one thing, a mortifying video of a temper tantrum is quite another.
The worst kinds of parents in the internet age, however, are the ones who use the Internet Shame Machine to discipline their own children.
The Internet Shame Machine is an incredible and recently-documented phenomenon which became the topic of a book by Jon Ronson called So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed. I reference it a great deal — it’s one of the best books I read in 2015. In it Ronson documents the power of Twitter and viral websites like BuzzFeed and Mashable to harness the Internet’s collective outrage. The victims of these outrages are everyday Americans who made an inconsequential mistake, like an off-color joke on Twitter (Justine Sacco) or took a distasteful picture at a somber location (Lindsey Stone). And low-level congressional staffer Elizabeth Lauten was pilloried by the Washington Post for posting on her private Facebook profile about the Obama girls (but oddly, one of their own cartoonists can mock the Cruz girls in their own pages with apparent impunity.)
We shouldn’t hold back in our condemnation of the Internet Shame Machine. The same goes for Internet-shaming parents — we shouldn’t hold back in calling them what they are: terrible parents.
Parents should, more than anyone, be protecting their children in every possible way. One of those ways is guarding their online images and reputations. Another job of parents is to discipline their children effectively. If they are unable to do so without enlisting the help of the rest of the Internet, that speaks to their poor parenting more than it does to something wrong with the children themselves.
The day after Christmas, a video of a kid having a temper tantrum went viral. On Christmas morning he found himself unhappy with his gifts and very clearly informed his parents of his displeasure. Immediately the headlines and tweets screamed about the child’s bratty nature. My first thought was, “Wow. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree.”
If a child is so accustomed to getting what he wants and is unable to express any modicum of grace or gratitude, guess whose fault that is? If a parent is unable to show a child that his or her behavior is inappropriate without posting a video online, guess whose fault that is?
The video, posted on YouTube, has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times. As an average American you only get one “15 minutes” and this is it for this child. His parents and family have willingly put him in front of the Internet Shame Machine’s firing squad to let them do their dirty work.
To be clear: these parents intentionally triggered the tantrum by purposefully giving the wrong gift because the child had been “bad” all year, and after the tantrum, when the camera went off, the individual responsible for posting the video told a fellow tweeter that he was “whooped” for his behavior. That was clearly not enough punishment, and his online reputation is now sullied forever because the video was then uploaded online.
The original tweet was eventually deleted and the account it was sent from was quickly made private, but not before the video was posted on YouTube. The internet is forever and this child’s behavior, and the horrible parenting that led to it, will live on.
This should be a gut check for these parents and many more: perhaps their children are behaving this badly because they are merely following the example set by their parents. If parents are unable to discipline their child without resorting to intentionally ruining Christmas, video taping it, administering physical punishment and then posting the video only of the child’s poor behavior (and not the parents’) in order to subject their child to the Internet Shame Machine, this should be a wake-up call. Kids model the behavior they see, and if this is how they are punished for bad behavior, that bad behavior will only continue in perpetuity.