Parents’ Shaming of Children on Video Is No Different From Cyberbullying

She Matters: To the mom who gave her stepson a “George Jefferson” haircut on video: Are we supposed to applaud this move as a new, effective model of parenting?

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Aaliyah Hines and her stepson, Terrence

YouTube screenshot

There’s yet another viral video of a black parent publicly shaming her child.

In this one, a 12-year-old boy named Terrence, who came home smelling like marijuana, got a “George Jefferson” haircut from his stepmom. To make matters worse, the stepmom, Aaliyah Hines, found out that he also failed the seventh grade and will have to repeat it next year. In the caption for the video that was posted to Hines’ Facebook page, she said she’s selling his Jordans. He also won’t be sleeping in his new bed, he’s going to summer school and she’s sending him to stay with her mom. Oh, and she promised to give him that George Jefferson haircut again the following week.

“I don’t ever want your hairline to grow back,” she said to him in the video. “You’re going to be looking like your grandpa.” Apparently he’ll be looking like an old man for a while.

I’m not bothered so much by the punishment part of it. Jordans are a luxury, not a necessity. And sending the kid to Grandma? Well, maybe she’ll actually do a better job staying on top on his schoolwork this summer. It’s not lost on me that it’s close to the end of the school year, and the stepmom (the biological mother and father aren’t seen in the video), despite yelling to the camera that her son is “going to get this work,” has just discovered in the final hour that the child has failed.

The punishments are what they are, but what I take issue with is the “whole world” knowing about it. It’s one thing to screw up and be punished, even embarrassed, but it’s quite another to know that there is an everlasting video telling millions of people what you’ve done, and one that they’ll be able to pull up anytime.

When I viewed Hines’ video Tuesday night on her Facebook page, there were 1.1 million views. By Thursday morning, it had 7.2 million. Hines seems very proud of herself, performing for the camera as she chastises her son, including shaving his head as he sits there pathetically. I think she expects the whole audience to cheer her on, applauding her for being like the much-hailed Baltimore mom who stormed a street protest to snatch up and smack down her son. But really, I felt awful for the child.

Did he deserve to be punished? Absolutely. Did he deserve to be publicly humiliated for an audience of millions? Absolutely not. If anyone other than a parent uploaded a video to humiliate another person this way, especially a teenager, it would be called cyberbullying. If the child willfully participated in this act as part of a group initiation ceremony, it would be called hazing. But because it’s a parent humiliating a child on camera and posting it online, we’re supposed to celebrate this as a new, effective model of parenting?

Does it even work? I recall one of the early versions of this type of video in 2011, in which an uncle whipped his nephew for posing as a gangster on Facebook and then made the teen confess that he was a fraud. Since the child was acting up on social media, involving social media in the punishment—or at least the apology, not so much the beating—made sense. The uncle was hailed as a hero. Still, that same kid was found shot to death later that year. Apparently he was still trying to be down. 

A part of me wonders whether these videos can actually make kids worse. I have my own experience with being publicly shamed by my parents. When I was in fourth or fifth grade, I went to a Catholic school that required students to wear uniforms four days a week. I did something that my parents didn’t approve of—probably talking back to a teacher—and my punishment was going to school in my uniform on the nonuniform day.

It sounds harmless enough, but it made me stand out horribly at an age when most kids are desperate to belong. I didn’t get much work done that day, between being whispered about and fielding questions about why I was the one unlike the others.

Obviously, that experience didn’t teach me not to be outspoken; it just made me feel terrible about myself and like an outcast. The result was that I acted worse and did stupid stuff to fit in because I had to redeem myself for sticking out. Go figure. Maybe that’s what happened to that nephew, too.

The truth is, while Terrence did fail, his parents failed him. If his grades were an issue and he was hanging with the wrong crowd, surely there were multiple signs before he came home smelling like weed and with a report card full of F’s, including one in P.E.

Maybe things have changed since I was in junior high school 20 years ago, but don’t schools have quarterly report cards and parent-teacher conferences? Don’t parents still check homework or tests brought home? Why weren’t his parents monitoring their child’s progress? How did his stepmom just learn he was failing? It didn’t just happen all of a sudden. It had been happening up until they got to this public shaming.

So where was all this “work” then? Perhaps if there had been more actual work put in by his family at the beginning of the school year, his stepmom wouldn’t be performing for her Facebook audience now to save face in order to avoid being labeled a bad parent.

Demetria Lucas D’Oyley is a contributing editor at The Root, a life coach and the author of Don’t Waste Your Pretty: The Go-to Guide for Making Smarter Decisions in Life & Love as well as A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life. Follow her on Twitter.