Offered free of charge to interested parents thrice weekly, the haircut – designed to make the recipient look like a balding man – is supposed to shame kids into straightening up their act.
“So you wanna act grown… well now you can look grown too,” reads the post on A-1 Kutz’s Facebook page.
The idea came from co-owner Russell Fredrick, whose son’s grades had been dropping last fall, according to NBC affiliate WXIA. In response, Mr. Fredrick shaved his son’s head, then showed the boy a picture of the old man played by Brad Pitt in the film, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.”
"I showed him and I told him, this is your next one if you keep it up," Fredrick told WXIA. "He didn't want it, so he got his act together."
The barber’s disciplinary measure may seem novel, but it draws from a less peculiar and much older concept that parents and experts have long debated over: Shaming as a form of punishment.
Over the last few years, a number of parents have made the news for publicly humiliating their children in order to keep them in line. A common tactic is to make the misbehaving child stand in a public area while holding a sign proclaiming the sin, which can range from bullying to stealing.
“He has been screwing up in school, behavior and academics and right now I am trying to send a message to him," Michael Bell Sr., who had his son wear a sign that told cars to honk their horns if they thought failing was bad, told the local news in Miami.
"Right now, this is the only thing I have left to try and reach him," Mr. Bell added.
One mother, a Jeannie Crutchfield of Casper, Wy., dogged her daughter with a video camera across school grounds, loudly scolding the girl as she followed her from class to class. Mrs. Crutchfield then posted the video on Facebook.
In her case, the strategy worked. Crutchfield’s daughter, Ricki, who had been caught cutting class, told local network KTWO that she had been extremely embarrassed, but understood that her mom had been doing it for her sake.
"It just goes to show that my mom cares.” Ricki said.
Critics, however, say that publicly humiliating children is always a bad idea because the lessons learned are often the wrong ones. According to parenting expert Amy McCready, the tactic not only reinforces the idea that parents can’t be trusted, but also teaches kids to make decisions based on fear.
“We want kids to make choices based on their internal compass rather than being afraid of embarrassing punishment,” Ms. McCready, who authored the parenting guide “If I Have to Tell You One More Time,” told Yahoo.
It’s also important to remember that discipline and punishment are not the same thing, research psychologist and author Peggy Drexler wrote for Psychology Today. Different children will feel and need different things, whether it’s greater attention or more limits, she added.
“The job of the parent is to help kids develop positive strategies for expressing those feelings and needs, and set their own limits, part of which includes learning about consequences,” Dr. Drexler wrote.
Still, reactions to the “Benjamin Button Special” have been mostly positive at A-1 Kutz, Fredrick told The Washington Post. He’s even had one parent avail of the service: A single mom who wanted her 10-year-old to get his act together.
“There are a few people that are saying it’s emotional abuse,” Fredrick told the Post, “but on average, everyone is applauding the mother that brought the child in – and applauding me as well.”