Mom Gives Public Punishment To Son, 12, Accused Of Bullying
A 12 year-old boy who bullied a fellow classmate and stole his iPod will have to cut the grass this summer at his school. That's the punishment his school doled out. His mother had something else in mind.
Believing that her son, Montavious Lewis, needed something more severe to get the message through, Bertreice Dixon decided that an afternoon at a busy intersection spent ringing a bell and wearing a sandwich board bearing his transgressions would be more effective. The get-up also included a plastic hat with the letter "D," for dumb, a description of his actions, she says.
According to Dixon, Montavious was trying to be "tough in front of his friends" and she says she is trying to save him from going "down a road where [he's] gonna end up in prison or dead."
She insists that it is love that motivates her: "This right here is showing him how much I love him, and hopefully he'll take it into consideration and don't do it again."Far be it from me to question her love, but watching the news footage is disconcerting, to say the least. On camera, Montavious shuffles up and down a grassy area with his sign as the camera captures him discreetly wiping his tears. Compounding his humiliation, the local Arkansas news station interviewed drivers as they passed by. They also interviewed Montavious. My heart nearly broke in two hearing his voice crack during his interview as he tried to keep from crying. It's very hard to watch.
But is it harder to be a mom scared that her child is in danger of becoming a criminal statistic?
Is this tough love or psychological abuse? Is her punishment excessive or does she know her child, his history and environment better than we do? Is she a heartless authoritarian mom or a champion of the ethos of personal responsibility?
It was only a few months ago that I wrote about the third graders who were plotting to kill their teacher. In that column, I called for parents, not schools to be the front line of discipline and character building. I stated that in order for schools to do their job of educating our kids, parents first needed to do theirs. Many parents and even more teachers weighed in, agreeing that too many parents are absent, disengaged and unwilling to discipline their kids.
When we hear the latest child crime story or tragedy, we rightfully ask "Where were the parents?" Well, this parent is pro-active and engaged and like most moms, she feels like she knows her child and what he will respond to best.
The truth is, my parenting style couldn't be more different. I pride myself on honoring my kids' dignity and I go to pains to make sure that their punishments (which consist of either time-outs or the restriction of a cherished privilege) is appropriate for the transgression. When I do enforce a punishment (i.e. everyone gets a treat after church except the child who misbehaved) I can assure you that it hurts me to see those tears more than it hurts the child who didn't get to go to Dairy Queen. I'm sure it was not easy for Bertreice to do this and I commend her for taking responsibility for her child's actions. On the other hand, I can't help but think that her choice of punishment is too harsh and probably counterproductive.
This situation is a tough call. My heart goes out to Montavious, but it also goes out to his mom. I have not walked in her shoes -- or her neighborhood.
I think she is sincere in trying to protect her child from a life of crime and she is willing to go to extraordinary lengths to that end. If I can't relate to her choice of punishment, I can at least relate to that.
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.