Facebook as a Parenting Punishment Tool: Good Idea?

BlogHer Original Post

In the ever-more complicated world of parenting, discipline and punishment are at the top of the Most Challenging List. The Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health says:

“Disciplining children is one of the most important yet difficult responsibilities of parenting, and there are no shortcuts.”

Discipline is the very topic in which you feel you are an expert before you have children because it is so crystal clear what those other people with children are doing wrong, until you are a parent yourself. And then somehow that clarity disappears into a fog, and the fog only clears in short, unpredictable spurts. One should not take short cuts in the fog.

During the pre-adolescent years in particular, your parenting fog conspires with your adolescent’s lapses in judgment to make all good parental decision-making the purest of all crap shots. And this is why I hesitate to judge Denise Abbott’s brave stab at digitally disciplining her daughter. In an interview with Akron, Ohio’s WKYC.com, Denise Abbott said she was dismayed when her 13-year-old daughter Ava’s behavior on Facebook got out of hand. Without even approaching the subject of whether or not a 13-year-old should even have access to Facebook (you can enjoy Mir’s of Woulda Coulda Shoulda thorough discussion about the appropriate age for Facebook here), Ava was apparently mouthing off and being disrespectful to her mother via her Facebook page. So Mom not only shut-down her daughter’s Facebook privileges, but went one step further. She posted a profile picture that was a likeness of Ava with a big “x” where Ava’s mouth should have been. Below the picture read:

“I DO NOT KNOW HOW TO KEEP MY MOUTH SHUT. I am no longer allowed on Facebook or my phone. Please ask why. My mom says I have to answer everyone that asks.”

Ava Elizabeth's Facebook Photo

Then when over 30 (and counting, I’m sure) people responded with inquiries, Ava had to explain her wrongdoing to every single person.

I have to say that Abbott’s approach is a creative one that also has several elements of what I consider effective parenting. The punishment was swift and it directly addressed the privilege that Ava abused. And Mom’s approach required her daughter to deal head-on with consequences- which included no Facebook privileges and not just a little dose of public humiliation.

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But there is one element that the punishment is missing, I think. And it might, arguably, be the most important. I’m not sure Abbott has been clear about how her daughter should behave on Facebook. Did Abbott’s discipline provide direction about how to act online and what are appropriate uses for Facebook and social media in general? It seems to me there is, at the very least, a very mixed message here about the appropriateness of expressing private matters publicly.

I strongly suspect that Abbott’s admonishment that her daughter “keep her mouth shut,” was based on the fundamental notion that there are certain things you share online and certain things you do not, especially about your family. We parents all know that our teens and pre-teens have hateful thoughts about us from time-to-time. Okay, let’s not say “hateful." Let’s just say that teens do not always agree with our expectations and rules. We know that they go into their rooms, perhaps, and curse us under their breath. Some parents even allow such feelings of disagreement and/or disdain to be expressed directly to them. But most parents do NOT appreciate being put on blast on Facebook!

Children cursing and complaining about parents on Facebook is certainly not new. Still, doing so is not only disrespectful, it is indiscreet and counter to the unspoken family rule that says “what goes on inside of this family, stays inside of this family.” Every single person in a family wants their own business dealt with discreetly, whether or not they are good about the privacy of other family members.

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