Ethics Alarms participant Jeff Hibbert asks my reactions to this photo:
[The sign reads: "I have to take back my PS3 that I was getting for Christmas because I wasn't grateful to receive a Captain America action figure (That I received from Church) so I'm going Christmas shopping for other kids with the refund money!" The actual photo on the web shows the unblurred face of an unhappy boy, and that is how I originally posted it. However, after some prompting by Jeff, I concluded that I was adding to the boy's plight by helping to publicize his identity. Ethics Alarms commenter texagg04 kindly provided this version, as well as three others that gave me some Christmas mirth by replacing the boy's face with Bart Simpson's, a smiley face, and most inspired of all, the face of recent Ethics Alarms' subject John Dillinger.]
I can’t find any context for it, back-story, or the name of the family involved. (I’m glad about that last part, by the way.) If it is what it appears to be, a young boy’s parents are subjecting him to rather harsh punishment for displaying inadequate gratitude for a gift he didn’t care for, by forcing him to return his favorite gift, a Play Station 3, and use the money to buy gifts for presumably needy children.
I’m not going to second guess their methods of teaching their child gratitude, generosity, good manners and the proper way to accept a gift. This is tough love, but who knows? He might remember it for the rest of his life, in a good way. Of perhaps the bitter experience will plant a mutant seed that will bloom into hateful and avaricious adulthood. The parents are trying to make a point, and its an ethical point. Good luck to them.
I don’t like the fact that the child was made to pose for the photo with the sign, and that it was posted on the web. I think any aspect of a punishment that outlives the effects of the offense and a continues to do harm long after the original wrongdoer has reformed is unfair, abusive and cruel. If, as seems to be the case, the boy’s parents added to his punishment of having to return his Play Station 3 by first photographing the kid holding a sign describing his transgression, and then memorializing his humiliation by posting it on the internet, they took the lesson into unethical territory. Punishing their child for his spoiled and ungracious behavior by taking away a cherished gift is a legitimate exercise of parental authority, if a bit excessive for my tastes, especially at Christmastime. Turning him into the web poster child for ungrateful and spoiled children everywhere is, I believe, an abuse of that authority.