You, All Right?! I Learned It By Watching You!

You all right2

I just saw another “bully shaming” photo on Facebook. You know the photos I mean, where the kid is on the corner at a busy intersection holding a sign that says, “Shame on Me For Being a BULLY”  or “I was sent to school to get an education, not to be a BULLY. I was not raised THIS WAY!!!!!” (

And it made me mad. Not at the bully, though – at his parents. Now, let me make a couple of things clear before anyone gets up in arms:

  1. Bullying is NOT okay, the kid’s behavior was not acceptable, and it should not be allowed to continue.
  2. Whatever that kid did to land him on that street corner, there should certainly be an appropriate consequence.
  3. I am sympathetic to the bully’s victims, I hate that they were made to suffer, and believe that appropriate restitution should be made.

That being said…every time I see one of these photos, a piece of me wants to scream, “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

Bullying is “when a person intentionally inflicts injury or discomfort upon another person, through physical contact, through words or in other ways.” ( Any parent inflicting this punishment upon their child, deliberately causing them emotional distress is, by this definition, a bully. 

There are so many things wrong with this form of “punishment”, it’s hard to even decide where to begin, so I’ll start with something that everyone knows:

Two ‘wrongs’ don’t make a ‘right’.

This is beyond basic. A bad behavior added to a bad behavior makes two bad behaviors. They do not cancel each other out, the original victims’s suffering is not negated, and his circumstance has not improved. Nothing has been resolved. You may think you are teaching him a lesson, but

“See how you like it!” is not an effective form of teaching.

This seems to be the most common justification, and it is often echoed repeatedly in the photo’s comments. “Well, I’m just teaching him a lesson.” What lesson, one may ask? “If he sees how bad it feels to be bullied, it  will prevent him from bullying in the future.”

I’m sorry, but if this were true, then how come child abusers often have a history of being abused as children? Didn’t they learn this ‘lesson’ when they were kids? How could some of these victims grow up to abuse someone else when they know how damaging it can be, how horrible it feels? And yet, statistics show us that enacting a behavior often perpetuates it, because

Children learn what they live.

Remember that anti-drug commercial in the eighties, where the dad walks in on his kid doing drugs?

After his father angrily asks him how he learned to use drugs, the son shouts, “You, all right?! I learned it by watching you!” The narrator then intones, “Parents who use drugs have children who use drugs.”!

Same concept here. This parent is telling their the child to “do as I say, not as I do”, but that’s not how it works. No matter how many times you tell your kid not to do something, if they see you do it,  what do you think is going to happen? Children learn from behavioral modeling. Congratulations, parent, you have just modeled bullying, hypocrisy and illogic. And speaking of hypocrisy…

Bullying is not okay “sometimes”.

This parent seems to be telling their child, “It’s okay for a parent to bully, but not a child, because parents know when and why and how much.”

What a crock.

By virtue of being a parent, we do not have the right to behave badly. We do not have the right to intentionally inflict emotional harm and bad feelings even, especially, on our own children. There is no reason that makes it okay to enact this kind of behavior. Even if the adult is claiming to be proving a point or teaching a lesson. Even when the parent thinks the penalty is equivalent to the crime, because

This punishment is not an “eye for an eye.”

If the argument is that he should exactly get what he doled out, then this consequence is way out of proportion to the original offense. Just as, if the boy threw a rock at another child, an “equal” consequence would be having one rock thrown at him, not getting stoned by the whole village. In this case, a parent is subjecting the child to a potentially unlimited amount of taunting and bullying, certainly exceeding the one-to-one ratio implied by the term “eye for an eye.”

Even in the bible, an “eye for an eye” is not literally interpreted as “the punishment shall be identical to the crime.

The term “eye for an eye”  is found in the Old Testament, and it has been interpreted, based on context, to mean that the value of the restitution should be based on the severity and nature of the crime,

…the Bible mandates a sophisticated five-part monetary form of compensation, consisting of payment for “Damages, Pain, Medical Expenses, Incapacitation, and Mental Anguish” — which underlies many modern legal codes…there is no form of punishment in the Torah that calls for the maiming of an offender…

In other words, there are better ways to penalize a person than to inflict the original crime, first and foremost being to assure recompense for the victim.

“But,” you say, “the punishment should fit the crime.”

I wholeheartedly agree with this statement. The first step, of course, is to assure that whatever can be done has been done for the victim. But in addition…

Was the bully picking on someone less fortunate financially? How about making the kid trade in a month, 3 months, a year of TV/video time for community service or fundraising? Was the bullying related to bigotry or intolerance? Maybe spending his free time on a research project on the topic of his prejudice would enlighten him.

I would hope that the goal of the punishment would somehow encompass exposure to new information or new points of view, and an opportunity to think about how his actions had impacted another human being. But I’m a realistic person, sometimes an appropriate punishment isn’t feasible.

If you can’t figure out a good match, make him go bag groceries or rake leaves during his former “free” time, and donate the earnings to a cause. At least he’ll get the benefit of some exercise, and a charity will benefit financially, which is still better than wasting time standing on the side of the road.

However, once “bully-shaming” comes into play, and the punishment makes the bully a victim, anger and fear are going to supersede any useful thought processes or enlightenment that might otherwise have had the opportunity to take root. And speaking of sabotaging the future,

Do you want your kid to suffer for the rest of his life because of this?

Because the second you put him out on that curb, you’ve relinquished control of that decision. It’s pretty much guaranteed that someone will post your child’s photo to Facebook, Pinterest, Tumblr, Twitter or Instagram within minutes, and once out there, that’s something you can never undo.

Every college or job interviewer, every potential girlfriend/boyfriend, political opponent and future neighbor will be able to pull up this photo with a quick trip to Google FOR THE REST OF HIS LIFE. And isn’t that a little extreme, because…

Everyone makes mistakes.

We’re talking about a kid, here. Should a bad decision made as a child follow them around forever? Even underage criminals get the protection of sealed record once they become an adult. Keeping in mind my 3 points at the beginning of this rant, I believe that everyone deserves a second chance. And although I don’t believe that an “explanation” equates to an “excuse” for wrongdoings, maybe there’s something going on with this kid that’s crying out to be addressed! Every kid deserves a parent that wants to know:

Why did the bullying happen in the first place?

“Bully-shaming” not only is a harmful, misguided, ineffective punishment, but it also fails to address the underlying problem. Sociopaths aside, we are all capable of empathy; I seriously doubt the reason this kid was a bully was because he failed to understand that someone else would be hurt by his aggression.

Something is going on here; people don’t lash out for no reason. Social/peer pressure? Stress? Depression? Chemical imbalance? A behavioral disorder? A bad role model in his home?  Maybe something else entirely, but before making the kid a victim and blocking all paths to the answers, shouldn’t we at least ask these questions?

Punish the kid, because he should have known better. But address the reason that, even knowing better, he chose to do it anyway.

Because, really, I think we all want the same thing: to stop the bullying cycle, not create more victims.


Why do you agree or disagree with this form of punishment?

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Posted on May 25, 2013, in Family, Parenting, Rant and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. This. Is. Amazing. You have just summed up why those bully-shaming photos always made me queasy. The only way to break the cycle of abuse (bullying) is to STOP IT. Not apply it here and there in the name of “teaching a lesson.” The only lesson those kids are learning is that the people who are supposed to love and protect them are selling them out. Shame only gets in the way of learning and growing.

  2. Amen to all of this! It makes me feel so sad when I see “bully shaming” pics. They’re the emotional equivalent of “Don’t worry. We don’t accept fighting in our house. I’m going to take my kid home and knock some sense into him.”

  3. Amen. A million times, AMEN. It’s like we share a brain. I couldn’t love this post more.

  4. Ari,
    I agree with you in general but I think your statement is a blanket statement that depends on the situation entirely. I think the problem is not the punishment but the fact that social media has made the punishment 50 times worse. We know someone who will remain nameless for the reasons you made above who stole something from a local store we grew up near. When found out, that child was made to stay at the store and apologize for stealing the item. When the child refused, the parent stayed at the store for 3 hours until that apology came out, all the while the future customers were able to see the issue over those 3 hours. Did it embarass the child, absolutely. Did they ever steal again? I am not sure but they were never caught, so I am willing to bet not because they learned the lesson of consequence.

    Being shown what it feels like to be on the other side of the bullying is not a bad thing but yes, social media and posting a photo and expanding that is where the problem occurs.

    In response to your post about whether someone should spend the rest of their life with this memory, I hope so. It doesn’t mean they don’t get a second chance but it sure as hell lets them know that you need to be careful with what you do or it may haunt you in the future.

    • Though I generally neither approve nor respond to comments from people who choose to remain anonymous when clearly they are someone who is aquainted with me personally, I’ll make this exception for the sake of this response.

      “I agree with you in general but I think your statement is a blanket statement that depends on the situation entirely.” The blanket statement that I’m making is that it is NEVER okay to be a bully, not for a parent, not for a child. I would also say it is NEVER okay to whack someone in the head with a hammer.The definition stated above explains that the goal of bullying is to hurt another person, emotionally or physically. Teaching is okay, obligating recompense is okay. Hurting FOR THE SAKE OF HURTING is wrong, destructive, and petty. It simply doesn’t make sense, just as it would not make sense if someone smacked their kid and told them “We don’t hit other children.”

      “I think the problem is not the punishment but the fact that social media has made the punishment 50 times worse.” I think BOTH are a problem, both using humiliation and deliberate psychological distress AND the magnification that comes with social media.

      “that child was made to stay at the store and apologize for stealing the item. When the child refused, the parent stayed at the store for 3 hours until that apology came out, all the while the future customers were able to see the issue over those 3 hours.”
      Apples and oranges. In your example, the child was not made to stand there for the express purpose of humiliation, and could have left at any time they were willing to take responsibility for their own actions. Any embarassment was incidental to the main purpose of making ammends, from your explanation, not the primary goal. The examples I speak of are cases where chldren were made to stand in certain places for certain amounts of time, apology or not, specifically so that they would feel ashamed and humiliated.

      “whether someone should spend the rest of their life with this memory”
      Sure, they should. A person is made up of their experiences. I don’t think I ever said it should be cleansed from their memory. But THEY should remember, not *everyone they meet in the future*, or anyone who sees their name and decides to google them. It will always be a part of them. That doesn’t mean that it should be revisited by other people they meet, 10, 20 years in the future.

      P.S. If you’re going to be a wise guy about your anonymity, you probably shouldn’t have essentially told me who you were. RI isn’t that big a state, and very few people in it call me by my nickname. Very few. And if you are who I think you are, even if it’s been a while, you should know that I respect a healthy debate, so…’sup with that?

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