A Utah stepmother made headlines this week due to her unconventional disciplinary actions when she found out that her 10-year-old stepdaughter, Kaylee, bullied a classmate. Upon receiving an email from the school that Kaylee harassed a fellow student for nearly three weeks, with a particular emphasis on the other child's wardrobe, Kaylee's stepmother, Ally, took action.
After what seemed to be a failed attempt to reason with Kaylee, Ally tried a different approach. She drove to a local thrift store and bought a couple of outfits for just under $50. Knowing that Kaylee would never want to wear these thrift store clothes, Ally forced her to wear them in an effort to help Kaylee feel empathy for her victim.
Shame and bullying: Is this considered parenting?
In fairness, Ally seemed to have her heart in the right place. She wanted to teach her stepdaughter an important lesson. She wanted to put an end to the behavior and ensure that Kaylee stopped bullying her peers.
But bullying doesn't stop bullying. And forcing your children to experience shame and humiliation at the hands of their peers doesn't do much to increase pro-social behavior either.
Kindness and empathy are known antidotes to bullying, but they need to be taught and modeled on a daily basis. Manipulating a negative situation to make certain that your own child experiences the same level of humiliation is bullying. End of story.
Kaylee probably did learn a few things that day. Perhaps she learned that she shouldn't engage in that kind of teasing and bullying in the future because then she might be on the receiving end of it again. She also learned that she should really be more sneaky the next time around. Covert bullying will be harder to trace and mimic in the future.
She might have also learned that her instincts were right (despite the fact that they were actually very, very wrong). Maybe I'm missing something here, but do we really want to send the message that there is something wrong with thrift store clothing? Do we want our children to learn that used clothing is worthy of humiliation? Some people genuinely enjoy seeking out a great find at a local thrift shop. Others purchase what they can afford for their growing families. Either way, in purchasing clothing that she deemed "embarrassing" for her stepdaughter, Ally actually sent a very mixed message.
It's never acceptable to bully other children. At all. It's not acceptable to bully children for the clothes they wear, the length of their hair, or their taste in music. It's simply not acceptable.
The lesson Kaylee needs to learn is that everyone deserves mutual respect. She doesn't have to be friends with every child in her class, but she does need to treat each child with respect.
In choosing to humiliate and shame her own stepdaughter, Ally taught Kaylee that best way to fight bullying is with more bullying. And so the cycle continues.
It's time to focus on kindness and empathy when it comes to raising kids. A better bet would have been to get Kaylee involved in some community service projects -- to turn a negative into a positive by empowering her to reach out and help others.
Sadly, the biggest lesson Kaylee learned is that she better not get caught the next time.