Parents of misbehaving children are commonly advised to fit the punishment to the crime. For example, if your child daubs black paint on your white walls, don’t deprive them of cake: appoint them cleaning monitor. According to this logic, I can see where Russell Fredrick, a barber from Snellville, Georgia, is coming from with his “Benjamin Button Specials”. This particular haircut involves shaving the crown of a child who thinks they know it all, and leaving the sides long. It’s a tonsorial representation of precocity. Fredrick is community-minded, so he is offering these cuts to local parents free of charge. He also gives free haircuts – in a different style – to kids who get A grades.
Since Fredrick posted the pictures of a cut in progress on Instagram, along with the text, “So you wana act grown…well now you can look grown too”, the phone in A-1 Kutz, his salon, has barely paused for breath. “I’ve had people calling from Australia, the UK, Canada, all over the US.”
All wanting haircuts?
Ah. And how many haircuts?
“No one has actually come in for one. People are shy about being on camera,” Fredrick says. Though a woman did call last night about her 14-year-old son.
According to the Washington Post, Fredrick applied the Benjamin Button style to his own son, Rushann. Untrue, says Fredrick. “I shaved his head completely bald and said if he didn’t improve the behaviour, he’d get the cut. The fear of getting it was enough for him.” Rushann’s grades “skyrocketed” and his current hairstyle makes him look about 12, which, as a 12-year-old, he must find a relief.
Other children have been less fortunate. One parent took her son to A1 Kutz “to teach him a lesson”. Surely a child who is unruly enough to merit a Benjamin Button would run out the salon, or maybe try to flood it from the hairwash basin?
“No. He took it in his stride,” says Fredrick. “He was cool. He started calling himself Old Man Jenkins and he didn’t get teased at school. Five days later his hair had grown back and I gave him a regular cut.”
Told like this, the Benjamin Button sounds like a positive experience. I have felt underpowered on the discipline front recently (did I mention the black paint?). So, does the Benjamin Button work on long-haired girls?
Fredrick sounds horrified. “I wouldn’t do it to girls. It would be too cruel.”
But the cut is cruel, isn’t it? “I think this guy’s taking a big risk,” says British behavioural specialist Lorrine Marer. “If I had done that with my kids, they’d have gone to the barbers, had it all shaved off and come back with a bald head.”
She also suspects the cut might provoke bullying. “Funny though it is, it’s only funny because we’re adults looking at it. Children remember humiliation. If you make that child stand out, he’s going to be angry and resentful and any hope you have of creating a good relationship will go down the toilet.”
Fredrick has three children, aged 10, 12 and 13. He has tried other forms of discipline with mixed results. What else can he do?
“If a child is behaving badly,” replies Marer, “don’t punish the child, teach the parent.”
I put this idea to Fredrick. “I’m getting a lot of flak from parents that don’t approve of it, or even just people that don’t approve of it,” he says. “When I was a child, I got hit with a belt. Whuppers. The way the law is over here, we really can’t do that any more as a form of discipline. You have to do something to reach these kids before law enforcement.”
Fredrick is 34. Does he have happy memories of his childhood in Atlanta? “Yes, yes, yes, yes,” he says. “I love my father and I was raised by my father. He taught me right from wrong. I got my life together.” Got the shop, he says. Got a family. Got an idea to improve other people’s childhoods.