11/20/2012 05:28 EST | Updated 01/20/2013 05:12 EST

Are Parents Scared Their Punishments Will Go Viral?


"What I say goes," we think to ourselves. Or so it should go, but often doesn't because of the age in which we live.

When it comes to discipline, many parents have taken a large step backwards, and technology is to blame. In this day and age of smart phone journalism, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook shares, parents have become wary and hesitant of punishing their children. The losers in this new world order? Our kids. Now that our every action and misstep can be recorded digitally to be played in perpetuity online, we are often reticent to discipline our children for worry about being caught on camera.

While the term "discipline" can take on many forms, you may be thinking that this new hesitancy pertains to physical punishment, or a good old spanking as it is sometimes called. Yet this is not the case. Parents are afraid to even raise their voices or say anything that is questioning of their child's behaviour, regardless of how bad, due to fear of being judged. Non-action as a parent seems to be the new normal.

How many times have we been in a public place and witnessed a child in the midst of a monumental meltdown? Without having to look too far, we've also seen a frazzled and stressed parent close by, often saying or doing nothing. The distinct look of embarrassment is clear on the face of this poor mother or father, yet they are clearly restrained in their response to situation at hand.

In previous times, the "spare the rod and spoil the child" philosophy would have been implemented on the spot, but not here and now in our age of reason. While I will say for the record that I believe that this is a good thing (there are alternatives to spanking), the choice to do nothing helps neither the parent nor the child in the situation. The parent has to deal with feelings of mortification because of her child's behaviour and the child has not learned the basic rules of how to behave in a public space. No one wins.

Is this hesitation to publicly scold or otherwise discipline our children representative of a generally more permissive society overall? How much does the fear of being judged, of the parents themselves being chastised and taken to task by observers factor in to whether or not mom and dad take action? Does the threat of being the next social media star to go "viral" -- and not in a good way -- stop a frustrated parent in their tracks, in spite of themselves? How about all of the above, with a particular emphasis on the social media angle? While we love our technology, we also fear it, as it has the ability to bring our downfall with a simple "like," "tweet" or "share."

In the classic sociology text The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (1959), Social Psychologist Erving Goffman popularized the concepts of "front stage" and "back stage." In the former, individuals behave in a certain manner when they believe they are being watched or judged (front stage); in the latter, an individual's true self and character is revealed when it is believed that no one is looking (back stage).

In situations where the question of whether children should be punished in public arises, it seems that all the world's a stage and all the mothers and fathers are merely players, whose actions at any moment can be recorded and uploaded to a willing audience in a matter of seconds. Not too appealing to any parent who has visions of their moment of weakness displayed forever on laptops, iPads and smart phones everywhere. This, to the detriment of their children.

As parents, our role is to teach our children right and wrong. We're obliged to educate them to differentiate between good and bad and how to behave accordingly. Technology notwithstanding, our responsibilities to raise our kids to have manners and to understand what is or is not appropriate behaviour should supersede any feelings of guilt or embarrassment, social media aside. Accordingly, let's do what's best for our children regardless of what others may think -- or record.

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