I've been reading a lot about shaming. As the article "Stop Calling All Criticism Shaming, on Slate, points out, shaming has become an over used buzz-word. It seems that criticism is now quickly discounted as shaming, but shaming has also become a form of humor with lol cats being replaced by cat-shaming.
And before anyone accuses me (again) of not having a sense of humor, yes, some of the pet shaming is funny and clever. However, like many kinds of humor, the origins of public shaming are less than amusing.
If you are on the internet with any regularity you are aware of the parents who have taken to publicly shaming their child as punishment. Parents making children hold up signs on street corners and posting pictures of their children on the internet as a way of humiliating their child into better behavior is no longer a rare occurrence.
Somehow these parents are unable to see that their own behavior is shameful, they feel no remorse and even tend toward expressing self-righteousness. And while my heart breaks for these children, I feel sorry for the parents, too, as they further destroy any hope they might have for a connected, loving, fun, and wonderful relationship with their children.
Shaming doesn't work as a punishment. Shaming doesn't work as a way of "encouraging" someone to change their behavior, try harder, or do better. Shaming goes beyond embarrassment, it makes the recipient feel mortified, as if they are no good, worthless, isolated, and diminished. Children who are shamed internalize these feelings. Shaming attacks who they are, undermining their feelings of self-worth. And while shaming may temporarily stop a behavior, it does not solve anything, and is terribly destructive in the long run.
As Alfie Kohn points out, "... the lessons learned by children are not the ones that the parent intended. What harshly disciplined kids absorb, he warns is (1) my parent isn't a caring ally whom I can trust but an enforcer I should try to avoid, (2) when you have a problem with what someone else has done, you should just use power to make the other person do what you want, and (3) the reason not to steal (or lie or hurt people) isn't because of how it affects others but because of the consequence you, yourself, will face if you're caught. No wonder so many adults who do terrible things were humiliated, or spanked, or otherwise punished -- often harshly -- when they were young."
What kids fail to learn from shaming is also problematic, "While shaming has the power to control behavior, it does not have the power to teach empathy. When we repeatedly label a child ‘naughty’ or otherwise, we condition them to focus inwardly, they become pre-occupied with themselves and their failure to please. Thus children learn to label themselves, but learn nothing about relating; about considering or comprehending the feelings of others." (This quote comes from Our Emotional Health.com)
While our own internal sense of shame may be healthy, in the sense that it lets us know when we've done something wrong, externally inflicted shame is a destructive force that tears down people and destroys relationships. Saying words like, "What were you thinking?!?!" to a child who makes a mistake does not help them think through what happened and how the same situation might be avoided in the future. Belittling a child by saying, "I told you so!" does not encourage them to take risks, learn from their mistakes, or trust their own judgement in the future. Yelling, "How Could You?" ignores the possibility that maybe the kids wasn't cognitively mature enough to see the potential outcome of their action, maybe the kid was over tired, hungry, upset about something that happened at school, or other wise distracted.
I read an article where the mother talks about her son playing with a ball in their apartment, repeatedly, even though she had asked him not to, even though he was "old enough to know better," and even though she had always had a rule that he couldn't play ball in the apartment. One day he was playing with the ball in the apartment and the television took a direct hit. The mom was furious and lashed out at the boy, shaming him for playing ball inside, for all those reasons I just listed. "How could you!?!" "You know better!" And the son was devastated. Later the mom found out that the boy had been playing in the apartment because he was uncomfortable around the kids at the park.
If the mom had taken the time to talk to the boy about why he'd kept on playing ball in the house when she'd asked him not to, if the mom has created space and trust for communication, if the mom had connected with her son from the beginning, the TV wouldn't have gotten broken. But more importantly, her son would not have been shamed and their relationship would have been better. The mom in the article goes on to say how a couple weeks without a TV was punishment for her son, implying natural consequences. That made me sad. Why should her son be punished for her poor parenting?
Why should any child who has done something so grievous that their parent feels vindicated by publicly shaming them be punished? It's my guess that any parent who publicly shames their child has failed their child in other ways as well. Shaming isn't an effective means of discipline, motivation, or changing behavior. The links below provide more information on shaming, the many forms it takes, why it's a bad idea, and what should happen instead.
Psychology Today: Shaming Children is Emotionally Abusive."When we talk about disrespectful children, we must look at parenting. Solid parenting shows children respect and empathy. When a parent truly gives respect to a child, they receive it back. When this becomes the norm for the household, we see young people grow up with a loving value system that makes a difference in the world. However, when children are shamed, humiliated and then silenced, it represses the harm that may re-surface later in life. If this happens, it can be in the form of self-destruction or cruelty to others."
Our Emotional Health.com Good Children - At What Price? The Secret Cost of Shaming.
"Kids are less given to act out when they are receiving enough attention, when their hunger for play,
discovery and pleasurable human contact is satisfied. Provocative behaviour can indicate boredom, or
perhaps the need for another ‘dose’ of juicy engagement with someone who is not feeling irritable,
someone who has the time and energy to spare.
Finally, children can be grumpy or ‘difficult’ simply from over-tiredness. In this case, what is
dismissed as ‘bad’ behaviour might be a child’s way of saying ‘I’m over the edge, and I can’t handle
it’. Curiously enough, when we as parents react with verbal assaults, we are communicating the same
thing. Isn’t yelling at children that they are ‘naughty’ or ‘terrible’ (or worse) a kind of adult tantrum,
a dysfunctional adult way of coping with frustration?"
Humiliating Children in Public: A New Parenting Trend?
Slut Shaming Fatigue. Because this Crap Has Got to Stop.
"As Funnell, who is working on a forthcoming book on this topic told me, "we need to remember that many teen girls deliberately aspire to dress in ways that are purposefully unknowable to adults." That seems simple enough. The problem is that rather than listen to young women themselves, too many adults fixate on one of the great worries of our era: that girls are the victims of premature sexualization. The anxiety about sexualization ends up becoming the only lens through which well-meaning adults see teen girls and their clothes. That's a huge mistake. "Instead of judging teen girls or policing their appearances," Funnell writes in an email, "we would do well to listen to teen girls and understand that they make sense of their own choices in ways which we may never have really considered."
Fat Shaming Can Lead to Weight Gain -- Now Can We Stop The Bullying?
The Militant Baker's Response to Maria Kang's fitspirational photo: What's My Excuse? I'm Glad You Asked.