Traffic crawled, backing up for more than a block, as drivers slowed to read a sign slung over the shoulders of 10-year-old Larry Saunders.
“I disrespect my parents and everyone who tries to help me!” it read.
Sarina Clark, Larry’s mother, said she was fed up with his back talk, lies and insolence.
So, she hand-lettered the message on two poster-boards and forced him to wear the sandwich sign on the corner of Ellerslie Avenue and 33rd Street for three and a half hours so her son could suffer the embarrassment that she and her family felt in response to his behavior.
“He thinks can do whatever he wants and disrespect me in front of everyone else and there is no consequence,” she said while sitting in a lawn chair a few feet away looking at her son. “So I want him to know how it feels to be disrespected and to have everyone else looking at me when he does things wrong. I need him to change. He has potential to be whatever he wants to be, but I need him to see that.”
Clark said Larry has respectable grades–a 99 average on a 100-point scale as a fifth grader at Waverly Elementary School– but he talks back to teachers, disobeys his mother, his father and his step-father and has even hit her and tried to run away from home.
“He needs to know people care about him,” said Diedra Gulley, Larry's paternal grandmother, as she leaned out of the house to ask her daughter-in-law if the young boy could come in as it began to drizzle outside.
Clark relented and allowed Larry to go in. Having tried extra school work, counseling and even arranged for a few hours inside a juvenile jail cell to scare him straight, Clark turned to embarrassment as a discipline tool.
She is not the first frustrated parent to try this path. Signs like the one Larry wore have been popping up all over as parents have taken a more method of disciplining their children. In January, a Ft. Wayne, Ind. mother took the same route with her delinquent 14-year-old and was told by police that what she was doing was not illegal.
Larry’s mother said that troubles began when she brought her 18-year-old miscreant brother into the household only to find that the bad behavior began to rub off on her 10-year-old. The older child is now in jail, awaiting a criminal trial that could put him in prison for five years.
The approach has supporters. Bishop Douglas Miles, pastor of Koinonia Baptist Church on Belair Road, said he does not believe in corporal punishment and, as an observer, he said if the purpose of the action is to “correct behavior” and not simply to punish, then he can support the alternative method of discipline.
“One thing severely lacking in our society today is any sense of shame for actions taken that are detrimental to the person or society,” said Miles. “Better the mother hangs a sign on her child’s neck before the law hangs ‘a rap’ on him that will last a lifetime.”
He added: “ Maybe if more parents hung signs or did something to help develop a sense of shame and personal responsibility in the lives of our youth, then perhaps we would not be experiencing the major breakdown of discipline and the ever growing…violence in our community.”