A few days ago I sat in a parking lot watching a mother ream her child for forgetting her Girl Scout vest to sell cookies. I was two rows away and could hear every word of the interaction. I should have gotten out of the car and said something, but I didn’t. I just sat there and realized, in that moment, I never – ever – wanted to be that mom.
This mother got in her daughter’s face and shouted “what the F is wrong with you that your forgot your vest?” and she said THE word. Loudly. But then she went farther: another woman came up and asked if she could buy cookies (she could see the car trunk filled with them) and this mother points to her daughter and snidely responds with, “no apparently I don’t have a Girl Scout, she forgot her vest…”
I get it, you are frustrated. Probably this is not the first time your daughter forgot something. Probably there are a million other things you’d rather be doing on a Saturday afternoon than setting up a table to sell Girl Scout cookies, cookies that I know you had to pre-buy so this is a big deal, it’s money out of your pocket. I get it. But you know what?
Shaming your kid is not the answer.
I don’t often research for my blog posts, and perhaps that should change, but for this one I had to know – am I overreacting? Am I the only one who thinks this is a big deal? What I found out is there is an alarming trend online: parents finding humor in shaming their kids.
I have to say, we should stop this. We should stop this now.
It might seem cute to hold a sign in front of your toddler (who doesn’t know any better, right?) and share, with the world, that they have just poured glue all over all of your shoes in the closet. It might seem cute. And probably people will “Like” it or share in your misery, etc. My contention with this early type of “kid shaming”, that might not even seem like shaming to some people, is what it morphs into – shaming of our 6, 12 and 16 year olds…who now do know better – and they feel it, I promise you, they feel this shame. What this later shaming shows our kids is that, when they make a mistake (big or small, as they are bound to do), we make fun of them. We humiliate them. We break down their probably already fragile sense of self-esteem a little bit more and, more alarmingly, we do this in front of others. Publicly. In the case of online posts, in front of hundreds or thousands of people. Imagine all your mistakes being posted for the world to see and judge and laugh at. I cannot imagine this. As an adult, I would be mortified. As a child, I would have been crushed.
In her Huffington Post blog post Why ‘Funny Kid Shaming’ Isn’t Really Funny, Vicki Hoefle (@vickihoefle), a professional parent educator and author of Duct Tape Parenting, raises several really valuable points. Two among these, however, I think are worth mentioning here. Shaming our kids, Hoefle contends, “models a HUGE lack of empathy, respect, tact and maturity” and it “jeopardizes two very BIG things: the future of your relationship and your child’s confidence to navigate the world.”
Do not get me wrong. When a child does something wrong, I believe they need to understand there are consequences. Whether you call that discipline or not, I suppose, is up to you. My concern – my issue – is with the public nature of these consequences. I was once told by a colleague that I dearly respect, that young people don’t get sarcasm. He and I are both very sarcastic individuals, and this is something that to this day, we both work on. To that end, I have found out on more than one occasion as a high school educator that this is, in fact, true. Some young people do get sarcasm. Most do not. You think that because they can “dish out attitude” with the best of them that they understand what sarcasm and humor (in the form of public shaming, some would say) is. They don’t. They really don’t. When it’s personal to them, it just hurts. And it hurts for longer than you can imagine. It’s leaving a mark on their psyche that will remain there long after you or I have forgotten about it.
I have a daughter. I went home and shared the situation I witnessed above between the Girl Scout and her mother with my husband and told him that I never, ever want to be that parent. If, I said, you ever see me starting to be that parent, please pull me back and, I said, I will do the same to you. He agreed, as I knew he would – he’s sort of that kind of awesome co-parent/husband/dad! We agreed we both want to model the best possible behavior for our daughter. I want my daughter to understand that when she makes a mistake, no matter how bad that mistake is, that she can come to me and we can work through it, that she (and probably I) can learn from it. I want her to know that when she does make a mistake that I will treat her not only with understanding, but with respect and empathy, the way that I want her to treat those around her. I want to strengthen our relationship through difficult moments and provide her with the tools to go out into the world and feel confident to take risks, live boldly and be kind.
I cannot accomplish any of this if I shame her, publicly or even privately. Neither, I would argue, can you.