Should We Celebrate the Dad Who Publicly Shamed His Son on ESPN?

Dads keep supercharging our social media feeds.

First, Professor Robert E. Kelly’s video chat with the BBC got interrupted by his young children. The dumbstruck dad found himself Internet famous for 15 minutes. Why? What parent couldn’t relate to being interrupted by an irrepressible child?

Now, a basketball-loving father publicly shamed his child into hitting the books harder. The Internet cheered.  But should we celebrate this?

Not so fast.

Here’s the story: A father attending the March 24 Cleveland Cavaliers-Charlotte Hornets game in North Carolina held up a unique sign. It had nothing to do with King James or the hardcourt.

It was all about hard work, though.

“Thomas get your grades back up and next time you’ll be here. Love, Dad,” read the sign. The placard even featured a weeping emoji. This wasn’t a crudely conceived moment. The placard looked rather polished, complete with a Cavaliers logo on the bottom. Talk about sticking the social media landing.

Naturally, the parenting moment went viral. Every other news item chronicling the public shaming referenced a “father of the year” query.

It’s understandable.

In our current culture we’re far more likely to hear about derelict dads than fathers doing something positive for their children. The former gets more clicks, to be blunt. And yet it’s the latter that resonates with us on a deeper level.

We’re all struggling to do right by our kids. And if a father finds an unconventional way to help his kids focus on school work, that’s a parenting win.

But why did he have to do it in front of potentially millions of fans? The game in question was broadcast on ESPN and discussed widely on social media, magnifying the punishment’s reach far beyond the arena’s walls. Shaming can be an excellent force for good, but its application should be nuanced and specific.  Social media and national television rarely encourage either.

Dear ol’ Dad clearly planned the stunt well in advance, hoping those ESPN cameras would zoom in on his handiwork. Poor Thomas was likely watching the game at home, only to see the world become privy to his struggle with his grades. And that’s where the story gets sticky.

Social media fame is both fleeting and intoxicating. It appears this dad got carried away by the prospect of going viral. Not only did the message get sent, he got plenty of retweets and media coverage.

But wasn’t the whole point to make his son hit the books harder? Did that message get lost in translation? Some lessons are best taught from the home front. Being a more dedicated student falls within that arena. Griping about your kid in such a public manner suggests a lack of perspective.

And yet, it would be just as bad to shame this Dad for his efforts. After all, he clearly meant well and understands the value of a good education. More parents should care so much about the three R’s, frankly, and creative parenting is a sign of a dialed-in Dad.

There are in fact two lessons that this family (and the rest of us) might learn from the father’s stunt:  The son learned that his dad means business when he insists on seeing better grades. And father and son can talk about social media—the impossible highs it offers as well as the very real damage often caused by public shaming.

Either way, father and son will have something to talk about for a long time, at least during the son’s study breaks.

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