Got a kid who’s raising hell? Afraid the police will be called if you break out the belt? A suburban Atlanta barbershop may have a solution for you.
Three days a week, parents can take their misbehaving kids to A-1 Kutz in Snellville and ask for the “Benjamin Button Special,” which Russell Fredrick and his team of barbers are offering — free of charge — to parents who want to try a novel form of discipline.
The cut involves shaving hair off the child’s crown until he begins to resemble a balding senior citizen, inviting that unique brand of adolescent humiliation that can only come from teasing classmates and unwanted attention.
Supporters say it’s the perfect punishment for misbehaving kids who want to “act grown.”
Fredrick, the A-1 Kutz co-owner and a 34-year-old father of three, said he decided to advertise the cut after he used the unique disciplinary measure on his 12-year-old son, Rushawn, last fall — and saw immediate results. Rushawn’s grades, which had fallen, “dramatically skyrocketed” after he got his old-man haircut, Frederick said.
The boss barber said he has already had one parent take him up on the offer. And there has been a surge of interest from other parents, especially after Fredrick posted before, during and after photos of his second “Benjamin Button” subject on social media last week. The images were shared widely on Facebook and Instagram, where Fredrick goes by the name “Rusty Fred,” and picked up by the popular gossip websiteMediatakeout.com.
Reaction has been mostly positive, Fredrick told The Post. “There are a few people that are saying it’s emotional abuse; but on average, everyone is applauding the mother that brought the child in — and applauding me as well.”
Fredrick said he was surprised by the attention the photo garnered, but he thinks he knows why his alternative disciplinary measure struck a chord: Cases like the one involving Adrian Peterson – the NFL star who wascharged with child abuse after spanking his 4-year-old son with a tree branch — have forced many parents to reevaluate they way they bring order to their households, Fredrick said.
That’s especially true, he said, in African American communities, where corporal punishment receives higher levels of support. An attorney for Peterson, who was forced to sit out the entire NFL season, said in September that his client “used the same kind of discipline with his child that he experienced as a child growing up in east Texas.”
“Parents are at a loss,” Fredrick told The Post. “When you go to discipline kids these days, they can’t necessarily use physical punishment they way parents did in the past, but they have to do something. If you don’t, and your kid ends up doing something crazy, everyone is going to say the problems started at home.”
Even so, he added, giving your child a haircut that makes them look like a mini-George Jefferson should be a last resort. The 10-year-old child in the photos he shared on social media had been brought to the barbershop by a single mother who told Fredrick she was looking for a way to teach her son a lesson after he misbehaved in school.
Fredrick, who says his barbers are sometimes the only positive male role models his younger patrons interact with regularly, was happy to help.
“I hope that most people won’t have to do this unless it’s an extreme circumstances and nothing else is working,” he said. “First, you talk or implement your restrictions. But when the conventional ways don’t work these days, you have to get creative.”
Xanthia Bianca Johnson, a Washington-based psychotherapist who works closely with adolescents and families, told The Post that in her experience, using shame as a disciplinary tool is often counterproductive. When children misbehave, she said, they’re letting parents know that they’re in distress. The goal of effective discipline, she said, is giving children an opportunity to reflect on their mistakes; that, she said, becomes increasingly hard to do if they’re “distracted” by blame and shame.
“There’s lots of research that supports the fact that when a child is blamed or shamed it triggers their nervous system, and when the nervous system is shut down, it is directly connected to the brain,” she said. “The part of the brain that processes logic gets shut off and it can actually stunt physical and emotional growth.”
The idea of using humiliation as a form of discipline is nothing new, said Wanda Wheeler, a clinical social worker who works closely with families. Consider dunce hats and parents who came to school to spank their children in front of classmates, she said. But, Wheeler said, children often lack the self-esteem to brush aside humiliating situations.
“It may have a temporary effect that results in changes in behavior, but there could also be a deeper or more lasting effect on the child’s self image,” she said.
Douglas Gotel, a clinical social worker and credentialed play therapist, said different communities rely on different disciplinary measures, but in his experience shame and humiliation build resentment and erode self-esteem over time.
“It may work for her, it may work for that community, but there are more effective ways to teach values,” he told The Post, referring to the 10-year-old’s mother. “…This is controversial and some people will look at it as draconian, but the mother is making an attempt the best way she can, with whatever parenting skills she has. While this is not the most effective method, she is trying to hold her child accountable for an infraction while providing him with structure and discipline.”
One person who is willing to make a value judgement is Willie Jefferson Jr., a Houston father of two who shaved his 11-year-old son’s head after he misbehaved in class last fall. “I know what works for my children,” said Jefferson, who noted that he grew up in an “old school Mississippi family,” where corporal punishment was the norm. “When I spank, it corrects behavior. You may be able to talk to some kids; for others a spanking or an embarrassing haircut may be a great option.”
Jefferson told The Post that the threat of public humiliation was so effective, his son is still on good behavior several months after he was given an old-man haircut. He noted that spanking or a humiliating haircut should be a last resort for parents, but an option nonetheless.
“Shaming isn’t bad for children if it teaches respect,” he said. “It taught me respect, it taught my parents respect, it taught my grandparents and great grandparents respect, and that’s what I’m going to stick with.”
And the 10-year-old boy at the top of this post? Fredrick, the Georgia barbershop owner, said the child returned to get his hair fixed. After four days of public humiliation, the boy’s mother told the barber her son had learned his lesson — and even started calling himself “old man Jenkins.”
“He understood why it happened and he rolled with it and allowed it to make him stronger,” Fredrick said. “You gotta reach these kids somehow, and I would gladly do it again.”
Peter Holley is a general assignment reporter at The Washington Post. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.