TORONTO — A University of Toronto psychology professor is sounding off on the lasting impact a parent’s shaming can have on children. It’s a topic that has been thrust back into the spotlight following the recent suicide of a 13-year-old girl in Tacoma, Wash.
Days before her death, a 15-second video of Izabel Laxamana was posted to YouTube.
“The consequences of getting messed up: Man, you lost all that beautiful hair,” the man in the video, believed to be her father, said as he panned from the girl — looking utterly deflated — to strands of long, black locks on the ground.
“Was it worth it?”
“No,” she replied, barely audible.
Her hair still haunts Chelci Frutos, the mother-of-two who was on her way to work when the teen’s body came crashing down on her car. The thing she remembers most when seeing the girl falling was what looked like “a long, black ponytail.”
“I came to find out that it was just a piece of her hair that he left long. She did have a long piece of hair that was left and that’s what I saw,” she told the Washington Post.
While Tacoma police have criticized the family’s choice of discipline, they said the father was not the one who posted the video online and didn’t believe his daughter’s suicide was caused by the hair-cutting. A Google+ post from last summer suggested the girl may have been battling depression.
The ‘Justice for Izabel‘ Facebook page, though, puts the blame squarely on the father and calls for him to be prosecuted for his public shaming. One of Laxamana’s friends reportedly posted this copy of the video “to hopefully discourage another parent from engaging in shame videos.”
“There’s a lot of evidence showing the very worst thing you can do developmentally for a child…is humiliate them,” said University of Toronto psychology professor, Gary Walters.
“It is a form of child abuse, it certainly is. Because it affects the development of the child.”
Walters explained there are four categories of child abuse recognized in Canada: physical abuse, sexual abuse, physical neglect, and emotional abuse. The latter includes humiliation and attacks on the child’s self-worth, which Walters stressed can be incredibly damaging.
“When you look at how children respond to this kind of thing, the kids who have had a lot of humiliation in their life — a lot of attacking of them and what they do, and belittling — fare much worse as adults.
“They’re really self-doubting, they tend to have more a lot more depression. It’s a nasty business…It affects their relationships, how they relate to other people.”
The children can grow up to feel like they’re not worthy of anything good, Walters added. Females can sometimes find themselves in abusive relationships that they have a hard time leaving — “partly,” he said, “because they don’t feel they deserve to be treated any differently.”
Walters also acknowledged that raising a young child is “probably the most stressful job in the world,” with some children being more difficult to deal with than others.
“Part of the responsibility of parenting is to, in a positive way, to control your child, socialize your child into the world. And if you don’t have the other tools to do it, things like hitting a child or humiliating them – which is a verbal kind of hitting – they’re fairly easy to do.”
But he doesn’t believe that’s the right thing to do. His advice to parents who are at their wits’ end when it comes to disciplining their children: sit down and talk to your child, being mindful that your body language and tone can be just as important as your words.
“Kids who have a lot of ‘talking to’ conversations with their caregivers, in general, fare a lot better than the ones who are dealt with more abruptly, either physically or through verbal abuse,” he said.
It’s a method this father would likely agree with:
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