Laura Diggins says she's fed up with her 8-year-old son's defiant behavior. When she found her son George guilty of taking $4 in change from her car, she decided to try a new method of discipline -- public humiliation.
"When it hit me that he stole from me, I drove him home from school today and I made that sign," the mother of three said. "Instead of beating him, ‘cause that don’t work, making him stand in the corner don’t work, I took the game from him, that don’t work. So, I said, 'Let's try humiliation.'"
Diggins kept her son out of school today and drove him to the corner of 58th and Baltimore Street in West Philadelphia where she made him wear a poster-sized sign that read, "I stole from my mom stealing is a sin."
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"Today I was just fed up," Diggins said. "I didn’t wanna try putting him in the corner, so that’s when I came up with the idea to make him stand out there with a sign so everybody could see what he did and so he could feel sorry for what he did."
Diggins says she routinely keeps a pile of change in the car to use for parking meters. On Tuesday, she noticed that all of the change was missing except for a few pennies. When she approached her son about the missing money, she says he lied to her.
"The first thing I did was call George onto the porch and asked him, 'What happened, did you take my money?' And he looked at me with a straight face and said, 'No, I didn’t take your money, my teacher gave me $6.' So when I got the word from the teacher this morning that she never gave him any money, it confirmed that he took my money," she said.
According to Diggins, this is the first time George has ever taken something that didn't belong to him from her or anyone else, but she says her son has been defiant in the past, refusing to do homework and stomping around the house when he's angry.
Diggins says numerous people who passed by George's corner of shame this morning stopped to congratulate her on her method of discipline.
“People who rode past, they were giving me thumbs up; and a few people were beeping their horns in support. I had people come up and shake my hand and say that I’m doing a great job," she said.
"I had a few people too, that stopped and talked to George, and tried to make him understand that it’s not that we’re making him stand on the corner to make a fool out of him, we’re trying to teach him a lesson."
Diggins says she came up with the idea on her own and that her son's father, George Sr., does not agree with humiliation as a form of discipline.
“When I told him what I did, he didn’t agree with that. He said George is going to resent me for that, but I told him, 'I’ve tried everything in the past and nothing works,'" she said.
The father could not be reached for comment.
Clinical psychologist Richard Stern cautions parents to be careful with humiliation punishments, saying they can be damaging to the bond between children and parents.
"The attachment bond, the level of trust and warmth that exists between a child and a parent is a very important factor in the child’s ability to deal with challenges that they face in life. If they had a good trusting relationship with their parents, they're more likely to come to them when they're in a bind," Stern said.
"Shaming slams that door shut. If I was that child, it says to me, if I ever have a question, my mom is the last person I’m going to; and that is probably the most damaging part."
While he acknowledged the importance of discipline, Stern says that in this particular case, Diggins may have fared better by talking with her son about the incident, rather than punishing him.
"Kids need discipline. We don’t want to give the impression that there are no consequences when they do something wrong. But the way not to handle it is not to publicly humiliate him. The way to handle it is to interview him about why he did it," Stern said.
Diggins, who also has an 11-year-old daughter and a 2-year-old son, said she has never used this form of discipline before, but she believes it will help her son, and other children to think twice about stealing from their parents.
"I think it’ll stop him from doing something like that again because now he knows that, not only do I know that he did something wrong by stealing -- which is a sin -- but other people in the world know too. Other kids that see his sign will know and say, I’m not gonna steal from my mom and my dad because they could have me standing on the corner with a sign like that."
George says he knows that what he did was wrong and that he has since asked God for forgiveness, at his mother's request.