When ReShonda Tate Billingsley let her daughter open an Instagram account, the Houston novelist made clear to her what would be appropriate to post to the picture-sharing site.
So the mother wasn’t impressed when she saw a couple of weeks ago that the 12-year-old took a picture of herself with unopened alcohol bottle from her father’s bar and posted it with the caption, “Wish I could drink this vodka.”
Billingsley decided the online faux pas should also be punished online.
She not only temporarily banned her daughter from Instagram, the mom took a picture of her daughter holding a sign announcing her punishment (but not showing most of her face). She posted it to her daughter’s Instagram account to chastise her and to the mother’s own public Facebook page, hoping to persuade other parents to monitor their kids’ online activity.
“Since I want to post photos of me holding liquor, I am obviously not ready for social media and will be taking a hiatus until I learn what I should and should not post. Bye-bye,” the sign read.
Within hours, more than 10,000 people shared Billingsley’s Facebook post, and hundreds of others shared it on Twitter. She says she didn’t expect so much attention, but she thinks it’s made the lesson more effective.
“She saw how this picture has gone viral, but … now she sees that if it had been the picture of vodka that went viral, it could have ruined her life,” Billingsley said Tuesday. “It’s vodka today, but it could be underwear five years from now if this isn’t nipped in the bud (and she doesn’t learn) the consequences of posting on social media.”
The story was picked up by media sites around the globe, and Billingsley, author of a number of adult and teen fiction books, wrote about her decision in a column on parenting site MyBrownBaby.com. She said the vast majority of the reaction has been positive, with many parents writing to her that they subsequently learned that their own children had posted things they didn’t approve of. Others remarked that the chastisement was appropriate and helped them talk to their children about what’s appropriate on social media.
“It was a welcome conversation for my 12-year-old who doesn’t have any social media! And she saw your story (and) doesn’t wanna go down that road,” one person wrote on her Facebook fan page.
About 3%, Billingsley said, had negative reactions, calling her a cyberbully or saying her daughter would hate her forever.
“You have manipulated your child's feelings with humiliation in an attempt to control her,” a person wrote on the fan page. "You claim that you have done this to teach her a lesson about what she puts on the Internet is difficult to remove. This article is going to follow her for the rest of her life and in a negative way.”
Billingsley wrote on MyBrownBaby.com that this is a new age, and “we have to meet kids where they are.”
“She begged to get a spanking instead or some other punishment,” Billingsley said. “But the strongest message was to meet her on her level, because she would have taken a spanking and been over it in 20 minutes.”
Her daughter was horrified at first, but by the second day, she was taking comfort from her friends, who didn’t tease her but rather called her mom crazy, Billingsley said. The girl then asked her mom to delete the vodka photo from Instagram.
“She saw the consequences. She said, ‘I wish I had never done that,’ ” Billingsley said.
The girl now intends to start a group at her middle school that will talk about using social media responsibly, said Billingsley, a former reporter for Houston TV station KRIV.
“Social media is here to stay. We just have to teach our kids how to navigate it properly,” she said.
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