Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Wendy Bell, you've gone too far.

Anonymous child. Photo by George Hodan.

Pittsburgh news woman, Wendy Bell, launched her Summer Electronics Ban (SEB) campaign a couple of months ago and has been documenting it on her public Facebook page. I've 'liked' many of the posts she wrote regarding the progress of the campaign. Her four sons, however, have probably not been quite so pleased. For one thing, I doubt they enjoy having their personal lives put on display for thousands upon thousands of their mom's followers. I can't help wondering what their friends think or what it will be like for them when they return to school later this month.

As adults, it's up to us to protect our kids from bullying as best we can. But as I have followed Wendy's SEB, I came to the conclusion that in many ways, she is doing a bit of cyber bullying of her own children. And today, in my opinion, she crossed the line when she posted a photo of her seven-year-old son sitting on the closed seat of a toilet in a hotel with a bar of soap in his mouth. The caption reads: "Seven year olds don't swear. When they do, they get this. A bar of soap in the mouth. Happy Vacation."

I looked at the picture and I started to cry. The more I thought about it, the more tears I shed. Why? Because I remember what it was like being humiliated as a child. But for me, it was small compared to the enormity of public shaming on Facebook. And yet, there are things from my childhood that remain with me to this day. Things that damaged my psyche. Things that made me insecure. Things that have created doubt in my own worth. 

And that's what I fear is ahead for this precious young boy. What will it be like for him when he goes to school in a few weeks? Will kids show up with bars of soap to mock him? I imagine him waking up for school with knots in his stomach, dreading the day ahead. Oh how I want to hug this kid and tell him it's okay... he's okay.

Now, in no means am I inferring that Wendy Bell is not a good mother. I believe she is probably a fantastic mother. And I love the whole concept of the ban on electronics in her home. But I do think she made a heinous error in judgment here. I won't address the whole soap-in-the-mouth aspect; I simply want to remind everyone of their responsibility to their kids to not humiliate them on social media. Or anywhere else, for that matter. Humiliation hurts way beyond the here and now. It clings to one's soul, a dark shadow ever present. Ever present.

And to the nearly 50 (at this point) Facebookers who shared the picture of Wendy's son... SHAME ON YOU for further exposing this young boy to even more embarrassment. Way to go. I can only pray that I'm wrong and that he will emerge with his ego intact.

For more on the effects of public shaming via the Internet, click here to read the story of Izabel Laxamana, a 13-year-old who jumped to her death off a highway overpass after her father posted a YouTube video of cutting off her hair to punish her. This article goes into more of the reasons why humiliating a child online is unwise.


  1. Well, I'll comment on it - washing a child's mouth out with soap (or using hot sauce on the tongue) is legally considered child abuse in most states, and people have lost their children for doing it. I'm speaking not only as a mother who is OUTRAGED at the idea that anyone would consider putting caustic chemicals or a food substance that can literally burn your skin off into a child's mouth as a punishment, but also as a former abused child. This is absolutely NOT OKAY.

    To your actual complaint about public shaming, I absolutely agree --- it is not acceptable to shame your child in general, but to do so publicly is unconscionable. I'll go farther than you on this, too --- the fact that she did this, that she both assaulted her child with this specific punishment and that she publicly shared it to shame him, means that while she may well love her child, she is not a fantastic mother. Good mothers do not deliberately hurt and shame their children. Can she change and be a fantastic mother? Sure! But right now, behaving this way, she isn't one. That's the plain truth of it.

    1. Thank you for your input, Alena. It is not my intention to tear down Wendy in general, but to simply call attention to how damaging her post really is. Thousands follow her and many will now feel it's acceptable to do the same thing (whether it's the soap in the mouth or public shaming or both). That concerns me. But I don't want to tear down any of the good she does as a mother. Many of us are good moms, but we fail in one way or another. That's how I feel about Wendy in this instance.

  2. Oh Hanna, I didn't know a child jumped to her death cause her father cut her hair off. I experienced that as a child. My father cut my hair at the top of my forehead cause it was in my eyes. We didn't have money to go to the hair dresser for haircuts. We had no hair gadgets to tie it up or pin it up. I had to go to school like that and I looked like a freak. I hated my child hood and wouldn't ever want a child to experience that. We need to build up those we love not tear them down. Today at close to 60 years of age I still deal with the effects of my parents.

    1. We all bear scars from our childhood, I fear. If not from our parents, then from other adults, siblings or classmates. We can move on, but the scars are still there.


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