When your kids are little it’s easy to win every argument. Even if you aren’t the most articulate debater, there’s really nothing that beats the persuasiveness of simply picking somebody up and carrying them from the room. And, when your opponent’s rhetorical strategy consists of nothing more than stomping their feet and screaming “No, no, no!” it’s a valid option. Things get trickier, however, when your kids get older. Not only do their arguments get more complicated (hopefully), but unless you’re Hercules, the “picking up and carrying” option completely disappears. (Then again, you could be like the 6th century Greek wrestler Milo of Croton, who gained his fantastic strength by picking up the same bull calf and carrying it around every day as it grew bigger.) Even if that is the case, though, just because you have the ability to lift your thirteen year-old up and carry her out of the room doesn’t necessarily mean that you should. For one thing, it’s humiliating for both of you.
Not that I’m against humiliation per se: it’s the “both of you” part that I have a problem with. To tell you the truth, I think humiliating your children is a completely valid discipline strategy. (Although, technically, I prefer the term “mortification.” Because it’s a great word, that’s why. It literally means to “make dead,” whereas “humiliate” just means “to humble,” and when you are having one of those moments when you want the earth to open up and swallow you it is not because you wish to be made more humble. It is because you wish to be made more dead.)
When you think about it, mortification as a form of punishment has been around for a long time. Take the pilgrims, for example, and the way they seemed to like throwing people in the stocks. True, I’m sure that it probably wasn’t exactly comfortable hanging out in the stocks, especially during inclement weather, but wasn’t it really the fact that they were in the town square that made the punishment so unbearable?
Some parents, I have noticed—obviously trying to take a leaf from the pilgrim’s book—have attempted to recreate their own versions of the town square via Facebook and You Tube (the infamous “laptop shooting” incident comes to mind). Here’s the thing, though: making the effort to turn every punishment into a public spectacle is completely unnecessary, because, in a teenager’s mind, everyone is already watching them all of the time.
This is usually something that does not work to a parent’s advantage, because it means that a simple statement, when made in a public setting, will result in a hissed, “Everyone can hear you!” (How is it that a child can feign deafness when you are bellowing in their ear to “STOP!” and yet have Bionic Woman hearing when you tell them under your breath to “stop kicking the seat” in front of them at the movies?)
In cases of punishment, however, this preternatural hearing can be a godsend, especially when it comes to perfecting your parental mortification skills. Just think about it: if reminding them about a dental appointment in front of their friends can send them spiraling into a fit of shame, imagine what telling them they need to go underwear shopping with you will do. Or better yet, threatening to tell them in front of their friends.
Of course, such threats (and the inevitable follow through) would have to be used sparingly, since, theoretically, as they get older, and their skins get thicker, embarrassing them will become harder and harder to do. Unless, of course, you somehow managed to up the embarrassment ante a little bit every day.
That’s actually not a bad idea. We can call it “The Milo of Croton School of Parenting.” With a twist.