Parents often worry about their kids being bullied online, but lately some parents have become the bullies.
Numerous parents are taping themselves disciplining their children, then posting the videos on TikTok to teach them a lesson. One mom filmed her kids scrubbing floors as a punishment for fighting. “So my kids want to be d–s, this is what I make them do,” she said in the video. A father filmed three kids squatting with their backs against the wall and their arms stretched out, saying it was punishment for acting up. Two of the children in the video were sobbing and one hit the camera when it got close to her face.
In a TikTok video that went viral, a father swears at his daughter and smashes her laptop because she had it in bed with her when she was supposed to be sleeping. The girl appears to be suppressing laughter, and the father, responding to criticism in the comments section, stated that it was fake. He couldn’t be reached for comment.
In another viral video, a 27-year-old father in Williamson, W.Va., Derek Hensley, uses a guitar to smash his partner’s daughter’s TV screen, supposedly because she was playing videogames instead of cleaning her room. He too later said it was staged.
Real or not, such videos can have serious consequences.
After viewing the video, someone reported Mr. Hensley to his local child protective services, and he and his family had to go in for a visit. “I’m upset that I had to put my kids through that,” said Mr. Hensley, a drug screener for the county and a part-time graphic designer who made T-shirts of the guitar-smashing clip. Still, he said, he isn’t sorry about making this video or others of a similar nature.
Why are parents doing this? Some, it appears, are actually trying to use the technique, however flawed, to correct their kids’ behavior. Some are poking fun at aspects of child-rearing—at their children’s expense. (A recent TikTok challenge: “Tell me your child is pooping without telling me.”)
Others like Mr. Hensley are riding a wave of popularity in this strange new genre.
Free Hess, a pediatrician and child-safety expert, said that while there are kid-shaming posts on other social-media networks, including Instagram and Facebook, she has recently noticed a particular increase in them on TikTok.
“While we can’t begin to comment on the individual discipline choices parents make for their families, our policies for TikTok focus on our commitment to the safety of minors,” a TikTok spokeswoman said, explaining that, per the app’s community guidelines, TikTok removes content that depicts or promotes physical abuse or psychological disparagement of minors. “We have not observed a notable volume of videos depicting parents or caregivers disciplining children and violating our community guidelines,” she said.
Even staged videos can be harmful, Dr. Hess said, in part because they could inspire the production of real shaming videos.
In videos that depict actual punishment, the harm to children is unlike discipline that happens off screen. “Even if their friends don’t follow their parents on social media, for so many kids today, social media is their world,” said Dr. Hess. “Adults have no idea what it’s like to be a child in public in front of the world.”
Research has shown that shaming children—publicly or privately—isn’t an effective method of discipline, Dr. Hess added. “Shaming doesn’t change behavior,” she said. “All it does is decrease self-esteem. When kids are shamed, they often feel like they have to hate someone, so they hate their parent for making them feel that way, or they hate themselves.”
Mr. Hensley said it was the children’s idea for him to create a TikTok account. They told him he’s funny and that his videos could do well. But he said he didn’t set out to make videos that appeared to embarrass them. He said he was fixing a door one day, having removed it from its hinges, when the Cardi B song “WAP” popped into his head. He started singing his own version: “Ain’t no doors in this house… We ain’t raising brats.” He decided it could be the basis of a video.
The video, which he first posted on Nov. 8, got 5.7 million views.
Comments rolled in, such as, “Now that’s parenting done the right way” and “Right on dad! Good job.” The video generated so many views that Mr. Hensley qualified for a creator account. He decided to make more, to see if he could profit from the appetite for such videos.
He made another video of himself taking away the kids’ phones, also to the tune of “WAP,” in which he sang, “Ain’t no phones in this house.” He tagged the kids in some of his videos to help them get more followers on their own TikTok accounts.
Not all the comments on his door-removal video, and subsequent videos, have been supportive. And not everyone views them as a joke. Many people have accused Mr. Hensley of abuse. He said he has received death threats. Viewers have even reached out to 11-year-old Kiarra, featured in the TV-smashing video. “Some people put our address in the comments on her TikTok and said, ‘Do you live here? Wear all black in your next video if you need help,’” he said.
“My kids aren’t actually being punished in my videos,” Mr. Hensley said. “If my kids are being disciplined, it’s not on camera, but they’re rarely in trouble anyway.”
The TV-smashing video was an even bigger hit, with nearly 12 million views. Mr. Hensley said Kiarra’s TV was already on the fritz and he had a new one for her. “We had to start and stop that video so many times. I told her to back-talk me, and she’d laugh and we had to start over,” he said. “I said, ‘Look, once I hit this TV, we’re out of TVs.’”
Mr. Hensley, who now has nearly 800,000 TikTok followers, said he has made about $4,000 off his videos so far. His theory on the popularity of kid-shaming videos is that it’s human nature to watch—and judge—how others are parenting.
“I think people enjoy getting in other people’s business,” he said. “It’s what social media is.”
And he said he isn’t worried about influencing other parents to create videos that depict real child discipline. “We’re all adults,” Mr. Hensley said. “I don’t take responsibility if someone sees my video and decides to discipline their child.”
The criticism he has received for some of the videos won’t make him stop. He said the only thing that would cause him to put down the camera is if his children asked him to.
When I spoke to Kiarra, she told me she’s in on the joke and likes being in the videos. “They’re fun to make,” she said.
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