At first, it might seem like your typical case of modern parental discipline: A Texas mom has prohibited her 12-year-old daughter from using the photo-sharing site Instagram after she caught the girl posting a photo of herself holding an unopened bottle of vodka with a caption that read “I sure wish I could drink this.”
But it’s what ReShonda Tate Billingsley did next that has people buzzing: Billinglsey, a prominent Houston-area author, had her daughter post a new picture of herself to Instagram earlier this month holding a sign reading, “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.”
Billingsley then posted the same photo – in which only the lower half of her daughter’s face was visible – to her own personal Facebook page and it has since gone viral. It has seen 11,000 shares from Facebook alone, not to mention attention from various media outlets.
Billingsley told ABCNews.com that in the past, she had warned her daughter, who does not have her own Facebook account, to be careful about what she posted to the photo-sharing site and was surprised to see the vodka photo.
“I thought she knew better, but in her mind, she thought, ‘I’m not drinking, what’s the problem?’” Billingsley said. What the girl didn’t realize, she said, was that the photo might still send the wrong message to a future employer or prove attractive to a predator, who “can see it and think this is a little girl who likes to drink.”
“Because she had been warned,” she added, “I felt I needed to hit her where it hurt most.”
And hurt it did. After she explained the punishment to her daughter, the girl was “devastated” for a day, Billingsley said.
“She actually asked for a spanking instead; she begged for a spanking,” she said.
But by day two, Billingsley said, her daughter had brushed off the incident. “If she is ever allowed back on social media, she’ll definitely think twice about anything she posts,” she said.
Critics say the mother is being too harsh in humiliating her daughter online, but Billingsley, who did not post her daughter’s name, said she knew her child could handle it.
Another mother raised eyebrows last month for how she punished her daughter online: to discipline the 13-year-old for inappropriate behavior on- and offline, she posted to Facebook a photo of the girl with a red X over her mouth and text explaining that the girl was no longer allowed on Facebook.
Experts who spoke to ABCNews.com applauded Billingsley and other parents for addressing their teens’ social media use, but warned that online public humiliation, at least by itself, might not be the best solution.
“If you just do this as a hit and run, I think it’s an immature thing to do,” said teen behavior specialist Josh Shipp, the author of “The Teens’ Guide to World Domination.” “But if you can give them that wake-up call and then circle back and have a mature, in-depth conversation about it; then, yes, for some teens it may work.”
California psychologist and adolescent specialist Jerry Weichman recommended skipping web-based embarrassment altogether. He said the social consequences of that might be something kids don’t live down until they leave for college. Instead, he suggests punishing teens by taking away technology access for a week or more. Parents who worry their children will access social media in other ways, he said, can take advantage of social media-monitoring software designed especially for parents.
Billingsley, meanwhile, is now planning a project to help not just her own daughter but other teens and parents grappling with social media. While her latest novel, “The Secret She Kept,” will be published July 3 and is geared for adults, the Instagram incident has inspired her, she said, to write a fiction book about teens and social media as part of her young adult “Good Girls” book series.
“I travel all over the country talking to young people,” she said. “They just do not see the impact of what social media can do. We’ve got to raise parental awareness.”