Parenting or (digital) public humiliation?

A look at 2 digital parenting extremes might suggest how to use social media to strengthen parent-child relations rather than harm them.

By Anne Collier

After I wrote “The trust factor in parenting online kids,” I read an insightful commentary by parent, author, and professor Lynn Schofield Clark in Psychology Today – “Disciplining Teens for Online Mistakes” – which touches on monitoring as well as the issue of parenting in public that I wrote about recently too. We definitely resonate, but Lynn is a scholar, writing a more neutral piece that describes what I’d call the extreme ends of the digital parenting spectrum. You might call them:

* Covert helicopter parenting (secretive, preventive) – “parents see their children as capable of being strong and self-sufficient, but they also see them as vulnerable” and therefore in need of monitoring and always-available parents (discussed in my previous post).
* Public humiliation, digital-style (overt, punitive) – a sort of “tough love” approach, where parents “assert their authority and demand respect” using their children’s social networking accounts to get it; they see their children as strong enough to deal with the public punishment the “parents believe they earned.”

“Both approaches can have consequences,” Lynn writes. In the case of digital helicopter parenting, parents can “end up feeling disrespected as their children manipulate the situation to suit themselves.” In the case of punitive public parenting, “children might end up feeling disrespected by the parents’ responses.” An understatement, I’d say. The professor leads her post with some very disturbing examples of the latter, one being the digital equivalent of hanging a super-embarrassing sign around the neck of your newly social 13-year-old and making her stand in a public place where her friends hang out.

Better to use social media for relationship strengthening and healing than relational harm. I love what Lynn writes about that: “What’s interesting about the new media context, however, is that it opens the possibility for greater mutuality in our relationships with one another, because it allows us to have more information about one another and to express more ongoing concern for one another than ever before. We can get glimpses into the worlds of those we care about and can … come to gain an appreciation for that person’s frame of reference.”

She adds that “it’s not easy or automatic to see the world through someone else’s eyes” and cites the view of Dr. Linda Hartling (director of the Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies Network) as saying that, “when both people feel seen, known, heard, and respected in a relationship, they begin to generate mutual empowerment” and mutual empathy (see this interview with Hartling on YouTube). Practicing that with our children in social media and everyday life goes far in teaching the social literacy that enables a lifetime of social, academic, and professional success. [Please also click to Lynn’s post for a closing statement to which I wholeheartedly subscribe.]

This is Part 2 of this two-parter on digital parenting. Here’s Part 1.

Leave a comment