Wake Me When The ‘Humiliating My Teenage Child’ Trend Is Over

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shutterstock_107326679Another day – another story of a teen disciplined with humiliation.

Gentry and Renee Nickell of Crestview, Florida, were sick of their teenager acting out and worried about her disrespectful behavior. Instead of taking away her car keys or grounding her – they decided to make her stand on the corner of a busy intersection holding a sign for an hour and a half. Because distracting motorists on busy streets is a great way to punish your child. From Yahoo Shine:

On Saturday, the teen spent 90 minutes standing at a busy intersection with a hand-written sign describing her sins.

It read: “I’m a self-entitled teenager w/no respect for

authority. I’m also super smart, yet I have 3 ‘D’s’ because I DON’T CARE.”


Some of the passing motorists took pictures that were shared on Facebook. The parents claim they haven’t seen the pictures and really didn’t think that the public would notice too much. Hmm.

“I wasn’t even thinking about what the public was going to think,” her mom, Renee Nickell told theNorthwest Florida Daily News. “I was thinking about our daughter. It was for her to be in the public and recognize what she had done wrong.”

“We spend so much focus on not wanting to hurt a child’s self esteem that we don’t do anything,” the Nickells said in a statement defending the punishment.

“Walk a mile in someone’s shoes,” the statement read. “We must undo at home what the world tries to tell her is better.”

I find it really hard to believe these parents weren’t considering what the public would think. These stories of parents humiliating their children as punishment go viral all the time. I also can’t believe that in a time when we are finding it so essential to teach kids not to humiliate and bully each other – parents are even using this tactic.

When I was in the seventh grade, we were doing a group project in class. I ripped a piece of it by accident, and muttered under my breath, “Ugh. Your so stupid, Maria.” My teacher heard me unconsciously insult myself and made me stand up in front of the class and issue myself a heartfelt apology. Seriously. The first one I gave when I stood up wasn’t “genuine enough.” She made me do it twice. I was made fun of about this for months.

Now, I’m not one of those people that has a fantastic memory. But this incident is burned clearly on my brain. Why? Because it was awful. Did I stop accidentally insulting myself? No, I still do it to this day. Did I begin to develop ways to handle people teasing me? Yes. I still have the sharp tongue I began cultivating in middle school. I’m not saying this is all her fault – I’m saying adults need to be really careful when they decide what is “character building” for a child.

Parents – please, please, please – just stop. Humiliation is a horrible punishment.

(photo: alejandro dans neergaard/


  1. Andrea

    March 23, 2013 at 10:10 am

    If you have read the story, you would know that they felt there was nothing left for them to do. They had ALREADY grounded her. She had no car or expensive electronics because they family doesn’t believe in that. In other words, there was NO currency with which to punish her. And the police officer responded to the call from another “concerned” parent; the girl told him she understood why she was there and why it was necessary. At the end of the punishment, the girl hugged her parents and told them she was sorry.

    Tell me, what would you have done instead if it were your daughter becoming defiant, disrespectful, and flunking school?

    • Tinyfaeri

      March 23, 2013 at 10:21 am

      How about taking her for therapy to help cope with the loss of her uncle who was killed while serving in the military, and with whom she was very close? His death happened to happen shortly before she started acting out and doing poorly in school … as children, pre-teens and teens will sometimes do when presented with emotions they don’t understand. Or, if I couldn’t afford therapy for her and was very religious, taken her to counseling sessions with our pastor or priest.
      One thing I would not do is put her in the middle of traffic with a sign around her neck to teach her a lesson. Not saying coddle her or let her “get away” with anything, just try to fix the problem instead of publically punishing the actions that likely occur because of the problem. If you don’t fix the root problem, punishment will never fix anything.

    • Andrea

      March 23, 2013 at 10:38 am

      Yes I knew someone would bring the therapy point. There is no indication in the story whether they did this, but my guess is that they did not.

      The truth is that therapy is long involved process even for the most committed of adults. For teens, who often lack the ability and the desire for self-awareness, it can take even longer and has an even higher rate of failure. I know that in our society we value quick fixes and therapy is NOT one…but here is the problem: what to do in the meantime? Just put up with it? Allow her grades to slip to the point where she can compromise her future? Live in a situation where a teen’s problems start affecting your other children?

      I am NOT saying that this type of punishment is the end-all and be-all of teen rearing and that this girl will instantly see the light and become a better person. but I am pretty confident that it will be a wake-up call. I do hope she gets some kind of counseling, but hopefully this will get her started in the right path until she can sort her feelings out with a professional.

    • Blooming_Babies

      March 23, 2013 at 1:02 pm

      How about communicating with her teachers, being aware of every assignment everyday. Forcing her to come directly home from school and sitting with her until every assignment was done and done well. Then she could finish off her day by helping with house work or reading a book. Find her some support groups or a therapist. Tell her that they love her so much and while she may not see it now as her parents they can not stand by and do nothing while she throws her academic career away.

    • Frances Locke

      March 26, 2013 at 12:57 pm

      But that would be work! That would take time and dedication, why should any parent do that (sarcasm, obviously)? They wanted a quick fix, plain and simple. Plenty of people discipline their children without public humiliation, why is this even being entertained as an option? I agree with your advice 100%.

    • Makabit

      March 23, 2013 at 1:26 pm

      In the meantime, you parent. And therapy does not have to be a ‘long, involved process with a high rate of failure’. There are a lot of brief therapy forms with a high rate of success available these days. The whole family, frankly, would benefit. Teens can be a pain, no doubt, but a parent who goes to something like this needs help and support as well. When you’re shaming your kid, and airing your family’s laundry on the public street, that’s a cry for help.

    • Sean Phillips

      March 23, 2013 at 3:03 pm

      as someone who was put in therapy for many reasons as a child and teen, from ADHD to my father’s death and who hated it, I can say from experience that no, therapy is not some godsend perfect solution to this problem. and it is also not a cry for help, it’s what they said it was: a last-ditch attempt at punishment, which evidently worked.

    • Makabit

      March 26, 2013 at 5:27 pm

      I suppose time will tell if it ‘worked’. I wouldn’t read too much into the kid’s immediate response. A kid with angry parents who’s being punished will often be submissive and express feeling bad about what they did, but that doesn’t mean you’ve solved the problem.

      I don’t say therapy fixes things for everyone, but I’m pretty sure that shaming your child on the public streets has a worse track record.

    • Victoria

      March 23, 2013 at 4:11 pm

      Amen to that.

    • lea

      March 23, 2013 at 10:43 am

      ^ This.

    • Amanda

      March 23, 2013 at 2:54 pm

      Not completely disagreeing with you, but I was a defiant teen. Completely disobeyed my parents, started failing school and became suicidal because of the loss of my grandmother. Therapy did nothing for me, I hated it and I didn’t want to talk to some stranger that I didn’t know. I went for over a year and it changed nothing for me.
      Again, not disagreeing with you completely – for some, therapy works wonders. For others, not so much. They should have at least tried it out, though.

    • Victoria

      March 23, 2013 at 4:14 pm

      If the family situation is pathological, therapy might not help. This girl is kept on such a tight leash that there were never any rewards to take away. No free time away with friends, no electronics, games, privileges, etc. If you live an ascetic life as a teen, with punitive adults, you might act out too. And honestly believe that you were the guilty one when they make you tell the world you are a bad person…I don’t know. I wish they had at least tried a few different therapeutic modalities before going straight for the jugular and writing her off.

    • Tusconian

      March 25, 2013 at 4:31 am

      Good point! I find it hard to believe there was nothing to take away. I was 13 in a very different time, with fairly strict parents. I didn’t have an iPod, a cell phone, or my own computer. When I got a D in 8th grade, they took away use of the family computer and I lost TV privileges. If I asked if I could go to my friend’s house across the street, I was forbidden, and had I disobeyed, they’d have found me and punished me further. This girl doesn’t have a TV, internet access, video games, books? She never goes to her friend’s house for an hour on Saturdays or hangs out with people after school? She doesn’t have a favorite extra-curricular activity? Parents have been punishing children since the dawn of time, and the concept of young teens having expensive items or even that many of their own things at all is quite new. People too poor to buy their kids iPads and cell phones and cars and personal TVs and video games, who use the internet at the library, punish their kids. The Amish punish their children. Despite the trendy internet mindframe, the only options aren’t beatings, humiliation, therapy, or nothing.

    • Frances Locke

      March 26, 2013 at 12:31 pm

      You might have just not had the right therapist too. I hated my first therapist and loved my second one. I was much older than this girl when I started though.

    • workingMOM

      March 23, 2013 at 2:59 pm

      Therapy is a great solution, but will only work if everyone involved dedicates time and effort to it…

    • Harriet Meadow

      March 23, 2013 at 12:19 pm

      It does not say she was already grounded, it says they “tried grounding her,” but it didn’t work, and they were letting her go to church activities because these reinforced the values they wanted her to have (because, of course, *they* couldn’t have been reinforcing those values at home). It seems like there are more effective ways of grounding someone – it worked for my siblings and me when we were teenagers! And we didn’t have fancy electronic items, either. I just hate this whole public humiliation thing, too. I remember learning a while back that punishing your child in public is a sure way to make them resent YOU rather than understand why they’re getting punished. They’ll think the punishment is unfair (which, I’m sorry, what these parents did to their child was), which means they won’t really “learn a lesson” because they don’t see a fair link between the transgression and the punishment. Plus, as has already been said, we’re so worried about the effects of bullying and humiliation in public media…parents should not be taking part in this trend.

    • Frances Locke

      March 26, 2013 at 1:02 pm

      I noticed the “tried grounding her” part too. There isn’t such a thing as trying to ground someone and it not working when you are a parent. You just do it. I had a friend in high school who had emotional issues. She ran away repeatedly. Her parents literally had to get something called PINS petition to force her hand (you can read more about it below).

      It sounds to me like these parents were punishing her attitude more than anything which to me smacks of emotional abuse. There were always other options when it came to behavior and academics, what they are trying to humiliate out of her is her attitude.

    • Makabit

      March 23, 2013 at 1:23 pm

      So basically, once you’ve already tried grounding, and the kid doesn’t have a phone, there’s nothing left but to make her stand on a street corner with a humiliating sign? If this doesn’t work, what are they planning to try next? Flogging?

      Nonsense. As others have said, it sounds as though she’s going through a lot right now. A counselor or pastor might be able to step in. Her parents talking to her, and listening to her, even if they’ve ALREADY done that, will go a long way.

      If they feel the need for punishment beyond grounding, there’s a lot that can be done without resorting to this kind of thing. Humiliating a teenager in public is NOT going to solve behavioral problems.

    • Victoria

      March 23, 2013 at 4:06 pm

      My parents did an alternate version of shaming…they would tell all
      their friends my sisters and my flaws, at parties or dinners, in front of us, to teach us a lesson. Our grades were sneered at, our
      clothing choices exposed as “she’s so immodest…of course, sex is all
      she can think about right now.” Ugh. These were seen as behavior issues,
      but we were all deeply sensitive and it hurt very much, though of course we had to seem tough. We might have hugged our parents and apologized, but I assure you, none of us have been in contact with our parents for years. Hugging them and saying she was sorry was likely because she has to live with these difficult people for a few more years. Good luck to her.

    • Frances Locke

      March 26, 2013 at 12:27 pm

      Um, there is a lot. Therapy (considering she just suffered a loss). IF cost was an issue there are dozens of low cost or free options out there. Volunteer work, which is something my oldest child already does at age 9. Hiring a tutor or working with the school to get her academic help if cost was an issue. I will say to you what I said to another commenter, this type of thing stays with you. It was highly visible, college admissions people will Google her and so will potential employers (I used to Google all potential employees). This is lazy parenting, plain and simple.

      Another note, I started acting out when I was a bit younger than her. I was being abused and no one knew except the abuser. I acted out because of the stress and the shame. I wish someone had gotten me therapy and help or had even looked into it. And I am damn sure glad no one publicly shamed me for my behavior without looking into the cause.

  2. Tinyfaeri

    March 23, 2013 at 10:26 am

    I agree with you. Public humuliation isn’t a solution to anything and usually does more harm than good, especially with teens (some more than others). And in this case, she lost her uncle with whom she was very close shortly before the acting out started – therapy to address the root cause would perhaps have been more effective than making her stand at a busy intersection with a sign around her neck. Some things, even in this over-sharing, social media-ed, public world should still be private.

  3. Blueathena623

    March 23, 2013 at 2:04 pm

    Here’s the thing — these things sometimes go viral. As we teacher our kids, the Internet is forever. When these teenagers grow up and apply to schools, find partners, or apply for jobs, do you really think that these images and stories won’t affect those people’s opinions at all?

  4. workingMOM

    March 23, 2013 at 2:57 pm

    i have always been a strong believer in public humiliation as its certainly a punishment that will make the offender think about what they did, however, i’m not going to weigh in too heavily on this one as i think it’s up to the individual parents to decide how they would like to discipline their children.
    do i think the time-out thing works? no, i think it’s a bunch of hippie, new-age crap. would i hit my kid with a leather belt? that’s not a good option (for me), either.
    the punishment has to fit the crime and i believe that most parents are inherently good and don’t want to cause harm to their children, so we have to leave it up to them to decide what’s best for their family…and if they’re wrong, there are government organizations that will definitely step in.

    • Frances Locke

      March 26, 2013 at 12:19 pm

      Using a belt is not and never will be an “option”. It’s abuse, pure and simple. Twenty years ago I wouldn’t have thought the public sign type punishment was that bad but considering the reach people have now (Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Reddit etc) I think this was a bad choice. This will stay with this kid forever. I do SEO work and it is so hard to get past something this visible. College admission people will see it, potential employers will see it. Everyone Googles you now.Anyone who thinks otherwise is delusional and in denial.

  5. Victoria

    March 23, 2013 at 3:57 pm

    This is an example of the worst, laziest parenting possible. It used to be that families tried to uphold each other’s dignity in public, because their reputation was also YOUR reputation. The kind of resentment that would cause a parent to view public humiliation as a salve to a difficult teen’s behavior is ridiculous.

    If that parent is frustrated, there are plenty of classes that teach effective parenting methods. And the fact that this kid is still pliable enough to let themselves be bullied in this degrading manner is proof that they are NOT the hardened criminal the parent believes she is.

  6. Cee

    March 23, 2013 at 10:16 pm

    I think this kind of public humiliation passes the buck of disciplining a child to someone else, particularly the public. Like you said, instead of taking something away from her or grounding her, they gave her a sign. No no, parents. You got to know your kids, you’ve got to know whats up and why they are doing the things they do, after you do you must give a consequence that tells them that the behavior they did is unacceptable and or provide the assistance they need to curb that behavior such as tutoring. This punishment is lazy and will not automatically solve everything.

  7. me

    March 23, 2013 at 10:38 pm

    I never acted out until I was eleven and my father tragically died. My mother’s new boyfriend worked with children and was convinced that he knew the best way to discipline kids. My brother and I were often publicly humiliated and undermined. It seems like silly stuff now, but our downfalls would be discussed in front of family and friends (ironically it just made everyone think he was a twat), and if we went out for a meal he would order something delicious with a nice drink and dessert while we would have a salad, like I said it seems silly now, but to a child it’s really horrible. Long story short, I became severely depressed and tried to commit suicide. Luckily they split up when I was fifteen and I started seeing a counselor when I was seventeen, but I still have a lot of issues now.

    So no, I do not advocate public humiliation. While some crimes merit a small punishment (grounding, removal of phones etc), problems like this girl has will not be solved by throwing sanctions at her, she sounds like she needs someone to talk to about her problems, especially as all these groundings aren’t working

    • Frances Locke

      March 26, 2013 at 12:11 pm

      Jeez, that sounds awful. I’m glad he is out of your life and you found some help. Sounds like the boyfriend needs some counseling too, what a douche!

  8. Tusconian

    March 23, 2013 at 11:57 pm

    I agree, especially since, what did this girl do? Was she a bully? Did she steal? Did she hurt someone? No. She (after apparently losing a close loves one) was surly and lazy. They punished her for grieving while being a teenager. All teenagers are surly and lazy at some point, especially when dealing with tough times. And they didn’t think about others. They also didn’t think for one second about their daughter. It’s 2013. Put a “bratty teenager” (the internet and media, even other teenagers, has a violent, irrational hatred of teenagers being bratty, like that’s some new, unnatural thing) in public doing something even remotely interesting, and the smartphones come out in droves. They knew the first thing a passerby would do was take a picture and show it to hundreds of people on facebook or reddit, tearing down their daughter, and probably making unfounded and sexist assumptions about her. Kids are bratty sometimes. A parent who thinks with such a defeatist attitude regarding “my kid got Ds and is disrespectful” after a tragic event is not mentally equipped to raise a teenager at all. They could have it SO much worse. There are 13 year olds out there beating other kids up on camera, getting pregnant, doing drugs, stealing cars, and carrying guns around. I am so tired of parents who freak out once their formerly sweet, perfect angel stops behaving like they typical 8 year old teacher-and-mommy-pleaser. She’s not acting like that because that isn’t how she is. She’s 13, she’s going to want to talk back, act inappropriately, and claim she’s practically an adult and can do what she wants. I knew scores of kids way worse than disrespectful and lazy at that age. 10 years later, the only ones who are still like that (stealing, cheating, dramatic, etc.) are the ones who’s parents threw their hands up when the kid was 12 or 13 and said “there’s nothing else we can do, woe is me, tearz tearz tearz” and either did nothing, or called the cops every time the kid slammed the door and raised their voice. Calling the cops, public humiliation, boot camp, shooting the computer and putting videos on Youtube…..those don’t do anything for kids who are just being typical brats. It does everything to get attention on the internet and have maladjusted trolls say you’re a “good parent.”

  9. Alicia Kiner

    March 24, 2013 at 8:39 am

    I don’t understand this trend either. If she’s self entitled, make her volunteer somewhere, like a soup kitchen or homeless shelter. If her grades are suffering, hire her a tutor. Take away her phone, her ipod, ipad, computer, whatever… and make her study. And don’t give those items back until her grades improve. I don’t think I’ve heard this form of discipline referred to as bullying before, but I can see the correlation. Should kids feel ashamed when they choose to make bad decisions? Yes. Should parents and teachers shame them? Hell freaking no. Children learn to respect others by the way others treat them. If you don’t treat your child, and people around you with respect, how will your child ever know how to do the same?

  10. wmdkitty

    March 24, 2013 at 4:45 pm

    Humiliation is, flat out, emotional abuse.

    NO parent worthy of the title should be using it to control their child.

  11. Amber

    March 25, 2013 at 10:12 am

    This is disgusting. Her grades dropped because her uncle died and they were very close. She is being publicly shamed and punished for grieving. Her parents are monsters.

  12. Frances Locke

    March 26, 2013 at 12:08 pm

    When I was in first grade I had a teacher use my work as an example of how not to color and another’s as an example of the right way. I was so embarrassed Though I still color outside of the lines to this very day (metaphorically and literally).

  13. Makabit

    March 26, 2013 at 5:31 pm

    Coming back to this, I’d also say that these sound like parents who genuinely want to parent well, but aren’t necessarily the best at understanding their child’s needs, or figuring out how to discipline her effectively. And, I’m just guessing, but they also sound like the sort of people who consider their daughter’s (apparently minor) defiance a sign that they’re messing up, and must somehow up the ante enough to bring her back in line.

    I suspect they need some support from someone they trust, who also has the kid’s best interests at heart.

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