Using the Internet to Teach Our Kids Consequences

7 years ago

Being heralded as the "most heartbreaking eBay listing you'll see today," a parent decided to list her sons' Beyblades after battles in the bathtub ruined the enamel, "took out a chunk" and broke the soap dish. It seems that the issue people are having is that the listing is accompanied by a super-sad picture of the boys. The question being asked now is: Did the parent take it too far?

I don't really think that's for any of us to ask or know. Apparently this parent thought they were doing the right thing and teaching consequences for actions in this manner. We don't know the family, how many times they were told not to use the bathtub as a battle arena or the financial status of the family. We don't know anything other than those kids look sad. Sad kids tug at heartstrings. But my kids have been sad before, usually because they're enduring the consequences of actions that they either understood (doing something they know they're not supposed to do) or didn't until that first mistake (jumping off a swing, getting a skinned knee and enduring that pain).

Teaching children that consequences exist is a good parenting technique. I don't think many people could debate that fact. If we fail to teach our kids that x action has y consequence, or any variation thereof, they're in for a big shock when they hit the real world, neglect to do their work or pay rent or take a shower and suddenly find themselves unemployed, homeless and without any friends who will let them stay because they stink too badly. Extreme example, yes, but it is our job as parents to make sure our kids recognize that consequences exist. They'll make mistakes (I mean, haven't you?), but it's just one of those things that we're in charge of as Parental Units.

And yes, kids break things. Accidentally. On purpose. Because they're not being watched. Because they're being watched and it just looked fun anyway. Because they were rough-housing with dad. Or mom. Because they have one of those minds that absolutely craves to see how things works. Because adults break things too for all those reasons and more. I mean, if kids didn't break things, there would be no Sh*t My Kids Ruined blog -- and we'd all think that the mess our kids just made was the Worst Mess Ever... and we'd be wrong.

I've taken away toys. In fact, I've taken away toys, put them in a garbage bag and taken them to the curb. Oh yeah. I wasn't joking when I said the playroom needed to be cleaned or I was coming through with a garbage bag for cleanup! (As a note: Those toys were retrieved and donated when the boys were busy actually cleaning later.) I've taken away privileges (TV, Internet, hand-held games). I've taken away treats. And if my kids damaged something to the extent that it sounds these two boys might have, well, I'd be making them work off the debt. Maybe not down to the penny of the full amount, but responsibility for one's actions needs to come into play somewhere.

I can't tell if this falls under consequences or crosses some strange, unknown line that has blurred in the sand since the advent and wide acceptance of social media. This parent isn't the first to sell their kids' stuff online -- or threatened to sell them on eBay. If the kids were warned that their toys would be sold if they kept using the tub as a battle arena, the parents only followed through in the most money-savvy way possible. eBay is likely to bring in more money than the local newspaper and reach a wider group of eyes. (Example: You're reading this now.) Maybe the super-sad, heart-breaking picture -- the younger brother described as having the "authentic, thousand-yard stare of a younger brother caught up in more trouble than he can possibly imagine" -- was a little over the line, but let's put it in perspective.

Here's a mix of real-life and online situations that you may or may not have endured as a parent.

  • Have you ever yelled at your child in public? Or, if you're the non-yelling type, have you ever sat your child in time out in public? Or some other form of discipline? Did other people look at you or your child? Did your child give them the "Woe-is-me" look even though you warned your child the appropriate amount of times about the behavior in question?
  • Have you ever made your child apologize to a room of people for doing something inappropriate? Say throwing a fantastic tantrum? Or forgetting their manners?
  • Have you ever taken a picture of your child mid-tantrum? (If not, you're missing out some fantastic photo ops.) Did you ever share those photos with friends and family online? Or via your blog with the rest of the Web? Or snail-mail a copy to your mom with a note that read, "I get it now." (No? Just me?)
  • Have you ever chosen a parenting decision that others mocked or berated you for? Have you ever chosen to hide a parenting decision out of fear of negative feedback?
  • Have you tweeted while having a rough day with your children? Or asked a question on Facebook about what to do about a problem you've encountered with your kiddo?

Unless you parent in a vacuum, chances are that someone has commented on your parenting decisions. Whether it was someone involved in your everyday, real-life life or via an Internet "discussion" of sorts, you've no doubt been called to task about something you did -- or didn't do. As more and more of our interactions with one another take place online, I can foresee more and more consequences taking place online. How many of you parents out there have taken away the privilege of the computer for a determined (or undetermined!) amount of time. If you have teens who frequent sites like Facebook, they would then have to explain to friends in school or elsewhere why they were largely absent. Whether they choose to explain in detail ("I smart-mouthed my mom and she took away my Internet privilege for three days") or not ("My mom is a heinous wench for no reason at all"), the "embarrassment" factor of having uncool parents who ruin your life just for fun still exists.

If it used to take a village to raise a child, maybe it takes a virtual village to raise kids nowadays. Maybe I wouldn't have done what that parent did in listing those toys with the sad picture, but that's more about me being too cheap to pay for eBay listing fees and less about the opinions of the Internet at large. Because I can tell you the truth: I would have taken that picture. It's a classic.

At the very least we all have learned something from our virtual village: Don't play with Beyblades in the tub.

My question is not whether or not you think this parent was right. Instead, I want to know of a time when you had to do something to teach your children a lesson in public and felt chastised or judged. Or, if you shared it online and were treated poorly, count that as well.

Contributing Editor Jenna Hatfield (@FireMom) blogs at Stop, Drop and Blog and The Chronicles of Munchkin Land. She is a freelance writer and photographer.

Original for BlogHer

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