By now, you’ve probably seen the video of a teenager who disobeyed her mother being physically punished and berated for it. The mother posted it live on Facebook and it’s since been posted to YouTube.
I have twin daughters who will be 16 someday, and I'm scared of that time. They might go behind my back and do things that are dangerous for them. They might be sneaky liars. They might think they know better than me, and they might end up facing consequences and responsibilities for the rest of their lives because they don’t listen to me.
That is terrifying. I’m terrified. And so was Nia Green’s mother when she beat her and posted it live on Facebook.
My daughters are only seven, but I’ve already felt embarrassed in the way Shanavia Miller said she felt on the video. My girls are loud and willful and they will draw attention to themselves – and to me – when they feel they’re right and I’m wrong. It makes me feel like a bad parent; a bad person. I feel humiliated and small. I feel angry and spiteful. I feel like a failure. But I bite it back, I get through the stares and we all live another day.
Of course, we haven’t hit the teen stage yet where the humiliation potential will only grow exponentially. They’ll go through puberty and start falling in hormone-driven love. And they will disobey my directives.
I know because I’ve been that 16-year-old girl, too. We didn’t have social media back then, and thank goodness for that, because I'm sure my bad decisions would have been broadcast (by me) for the world to see.
I was 16 and messing around with a guy – and my mom said no. No, I couldn’t see him, and no I couldn’t date him. When it came out that I was seeing him anyway, my mother punished me. I was grounded the first time. The next time, she took my car away – the car that she had given me. The third time, she followed me and stormed in. She let both the guy and me have it. Verbally. Appropriately. Without swearing or hitting or telling all her friends about it.
I am both the mother and the daughter, and I couldn’t sit through Miller's video without crying.
I understand the humiliation Miller felt when she realized what her daughter had been doing. I understand her outrage, and more to the point, her fear. But she was wrong, horribly wrong, here. This was sexual shaming at a very vulnerable time in her child's life. Nia’s not going to open up to her mom now or have a better relationship with her. She's going to say what she needs to say, and vow never to get caught again.
That’s what I did, and I was never beaten. My mother was thorough, calm, and methodical in her explanations to me and her punishments. I understood why she was doing what she did, and emotions like anger and fear didn’t muddy the field. Even without their volatile help, our relationship still splintered. It’s nearly unavoidable.
But because of the privacy afforded me to make my own mistakes in my own family, and the time given to me to figure out my mother’s lesson on my own, we could heal. Of course, my infatuation with the boy passed, and I still apologize for putting her through that to this day.
I don’t know that it’s possible to heal in the case of Miller and her daughter. Best case scenario is the teenager does what her mother says, but even then this experience will gut her through and through. She'll be in history class thinking about how humiliated she was at the hands of someone who is supposed to love her best. She'll be embarrassed around her boyfriend and her friends. The kids and teachers in her class will either jeer at her or look at her with pity. She has enough turmoil to navigate as a teen. This will overpower all those other lessons she's supposed to be learning.
She will be consumed, and she won’t be able to turn to her mother. She will be alone.
As the older, wiser person, a parent needs to use her restraint. Not only did Miller fail to do that, but she posted it online for all the world to see in order to teach her daughter a lesson.
The lesson she taught her daughter was that she couldn’t trust her mother. She can’t open up to her about the teenage experiences she is having, the troubles she might need help with, the situations she might need to get out of.
Is that fair to a child? To a teenager just trying to figure out her own life as a person apart from those who birthed her? The girl’s actions had consequences at the hands of her mother. Now both will suffer the consequences of the mother’s actions. In public. As recorded permanently.
My mom and I disagreed vehemently about my life choices at 16, but I knew she was always there protecting me, and when I came around, our relationship hadn't been damaged in a way that prevented me from thinking of her as my support system and loving parent. I was lucky. I always had her support and I knew it. I want my girls to know the same.
My daughters will have access to social media. They’ll be using apps I don’t even know about. They’ll be swimming in waters unknown to me. Dangerous waters that scare me even now, seven years out. I will keep watch over them, as my mother did me, but if they fail to live up to the honesty and morals I’ve attempted to instill in them, I will show them the virtue of privacy. I will show them the virtue of forgiveness. Not just for themselves, but for me. For my relationship with them.
A parent shouldn’t beat their kid with a stick. A parent shouldn’t post it on the Internet. A parent’s job is to help their children along the roller coaster of life. It’s hard enough without stooping to physical intimidation and public humiliation. With those ills in the mix, it could be impossible.