Viral Photos of Dad Dragging Daughter by Hair Were Awful -- but Then People Defended Him

man pulling daughter's hair in Walmart

Not everyone agrees on the methods parents use to get the respect we feel we deserve. Just look at this viral Facebook post from a concerned mom named Erika Burch. While shopping at her local Walmart, she and her husband noticed a man wheeling his cart down the aisle -- with a hank of his daughter's hair wrapped around the handle. Burch reports that the young girl was crying, "Please stop! I promise I won't do it again!"


Burch explains in her Facebook post that she took pictures of the action while trying to intervene. When the dad told her to lay off, she called the police. But since there was no sign of "bodily injury," such as blood or bruises, they didn't make an arrest. In fact, the sergeant reportedly told Erika that the father "had the right to discipline his children" as he saw fit.

Burch shared the story online, hoping that readers would try bringing the hair-yanking dad to justice. Since then, there's been a slew of think pieces asking whether or not we should intervene when we see what we believe is child abuse; and many have questioned whether or not Erika should have posted photos showing this poor little girl's face. Those are important questions, for sure -- but what I'm interested in here is the fact that for every outraged commenter who agreed that "he needs to be in jail" or "this is abuse," there's been an equal number who pointed the accusing finger at Erika: Why was she trying to demonize a dad who was just doing his job as a parent?

These are just a few of the printable responses:

She was obviously being a little b**tch prolly runnin around getting into s**t dad prolly told her too stop 100 times…so [he] did this I say good idea sir

What's wrong with this world is not being able to discipline your children in public because of you.

She got her hair pulled and humiliated in the store. Real question is what did she do to deserve it?

She needed a butt whipping instead of just pulling her hair!

If only getting the respect of our children were as easy as announcing, à la Eric Cartman, "Respect my authori-TAY!" Alas, no such luck. As much as we do for them -- the attention we lavish, the time and energy and money we expend -- we still find ourselves having to establish ourselves as the Grown-Ups in Charge pretty much every day of our parenting lives. (Sometimes 20 times a day.) Then, when a child deliberately flouts a rule or gets in-your-face sassy, we have to make it clear that it's time to show us some respect.

The question is: How do you get that message across?

More from CafeMom: If You Were Spanked as a Child, You're Not 'Fine' & Your Kid Won't Be Either

The pro–Walmart dad faction brings up the point that today's kids are entitled, disrespectful brats -- and it's all because their parents are taking the wimpy let's-talk-feelings approach instead of getting tough. One good smack lets them know you mean business, they say. I learned to respect my dad because I knew I was in for a whipping if I stepped out of line.

They say that their childhood spankings helped mold them into solid citizens, so they carry on the tradition by disciplining their own kids with open hands, leather belts, the occasional mouthful of soap, and -- yes -- even a hard tug on the ponytail. It's all about learning respect, they say.

So will this girl grow up to be a solid citizen, too? We can only hope. But if she does become a model of respectfulness, it won't be because her father gave her scalp a memorable yanking. It will be a trait she develops in spite of it.

At its heart, spanking and other physical punishments are a type of aversion therapy: It links forbidden or dangerous behavior to pain, so the child stops the behavior in order to avoid the pain. It's the type of training that you might use on a dog that barks too much or jumps up on visitors. Parents typically start this training when children are a little past toddlerhood; however, some families (including, reportedly, the Duggars) believe in starting the correction technique as early as possible. They put their babies on a blanket on the floor, then lightly hit them on the hand or legs when they try to crawl off. Eventually, the infants learn to stay put.

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Can spankings and hair-pulling help children become more obedient? Absolutely. Can they establish a parent's authority? No doubt. But obedience and submission to authority aren't the same thing as true respect.

You can't smack, yell, or whip someone into respecting you -- just ask any POW or domestic-abuse survivor. You don't instantly get respect just because you're in a position of power -- just ask any politician or civil servant.

Respect has to be earned through trust, fairness, and integrity. You have to work hard to keep it, and when you lose it, it's hard as hell to earn it back. Demanding it through fear or commanding it through force not only won't work, but can backfire on you as well. (Ever seen Mommie Dearest?)

If children respect the parents who spank them, it's because they receive more kisses than they do sore bottoms. Those parents offer daily support, advice, and encouragement, and instill a sense of responsibility and self-esteem. Their goal is to guide, not intimidate. Their physical punishment is given sparingly, and never with an intent to scar body or soul.

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And they know that respect is a two-way street, so they pay attention to their children's feelings and needs. Their children "turn out fine" because they want to be good, responsible people, not because they’re afraid of what might happen if they aren't.

We may never know the whole story about what went down in Walmart that day. But the girl now has a sore scalp to remind her that if she breaks the rules, the father she loves is capable of using fear, pain, and humiliation to set her straight.

You may agree that this incident was a good way to teach the girl a lesson. Just don't fool yourself into believing it was a lesson in respect.


Image via Ericka Burch/Facebook

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