A recent news report from Swanton, Ohio, showed a little girl, about 12, walking along the road to school in 36-degree weather. Her father was slowly following behind her along her 5-mile trek, video camera rolling. The girl had committed her second bullying offense at school, and this was dad’s way of making her think about what she had done.
The video ignited social media. Some decried the father’s parental punishment as cruel. Others supported his decision as a way to make her think long and hard about her behavior.
This brings up the age-old issue of child misbehavior and parental discipline. It also highlights the ubiquitous scourge of bullying—in school, the workplace, at home and via the Internet. Why do children bully, and what are responsible parents supposed to do to change that behavior?
We think the dad’s disciplinary response was appropriate. He did not hit his daughter out of anger. He did not drop her off on the roadside without a heavy coat and abandon her. (We have heard of such stories.) He did not put her in time-out at home. Indeed, his daughter had plenty of time to think about her actions on her 5-mile hike. Cruel and unusual punishment? We don’t think so. We would call it courageous and hopefully effective.
What about the miles after?
Admittedly, we were not able to follow up to find out if this disciplinary approach worked or not. And we do not know what corrective measure the dad took after his daughter’s first offense. Obviously, she hadn’t learned her lesson the first time around.
How did the daughter respond to her long walk to school? Did it make her angrier? Will she feel spiteful toward her father? Or will she think twice before she bullies again? Will she be grateful that she wasn’t grounded? (On second thought, she covered a lot of it.) We do not know. Only the people who live in that Ohio home know for sure. Time will tell.
Good parenting is a tough job
Many of us remember the age of “permissive parenting.” Our precious and sensitive children need space to grow, to think, to create. Coming down too hard on our children only breeds contempt and encourages their negative rebellion. We think many permissive parents—not all—learned a hard lesson. Kids are kids. Decision-making and discernment must be cultivated gradually. It would make no sense to hand the car keys to a child who just turned 16 and tell him or her to be careful on the road. Much of permissive parenting made about as much sense. We think we’re paying today for our parental lapses of the past. Bullying could be one of those costly results.
We believe in loving our children. We also believe in tough-loving our children. Our kids don’t have good role models today. Parents who are also grown-ups (yes, there are two distinct types) need to set high moral standards for their children, maintain reasonable expectations, and keep a pair of walking shoes handy.