It really shouldn't shock me anymore, but it does. How many times have I seen a video go viral of a parent embarrassing/berating/punishing their kid and posting it to social media? We all remember the father who used a shotgun to demolish his daughter's laptop. And the mom who hacked her daughter's Facebook. And the dad with the Daisy Dukes… the list goes on. At first glance, we might see these stories and applaud the parents for their very creative, and we assume effective, methods of discipline. But I have to wonder if using public humiliation is a wise choice for the concerned parent.
When we see our children on the edge of disastrous choices, or watch them tumble headlong into failure, we must ask ourselves, "How can I help them learn?" We want to help our kids recognize a bad idea and avoid making the same mistake twice. But how do we accomplish this? How do we drill it into our kids' stubborn heads that they're heading the wrong direction?
Guilt says, "I am a good person who made a bad decision."
All too often, we utilize shame. Not to be confused with guilt, which is extremely helpful. Shame says, "I am a bad person for doing that." Guilt says, "I am a good person who made a bad decision."
When we broadcast our children's mistakes on social media, we present the world with a very limited idea of the person our child is. They don't know that she is a good person. They only see the negative caricature we're posting. We're showcasing their failure. That girl will forever be "the one whose dad shot her computer." The girl in this recent video won't get a chance to prove herself to the hundreds of thousands of people who watched her viral video confessional.
Social rejection and self-worth
Brene Brown, shame researcher and author of the book Daring Greatly, says, "The brain processes social rejection or shame the same exact way it processes physical pain. I suspect we'll eventually have the data to support my hypothesis about children storing shame as trauma, but in the meantime I can say without hesitation that childhood experiences of shame change who we are, how we think about ourselves and our sense of self-worth."
And if we damage a child's self-worth, leading them to believe that they are only as good as their worst choices, how can they find the courage to change?
Brown goes on, "Shame corrodes the part of us that believes we can do and be better. When we shame and label our children, we take away their opportunity to grow and try on new behaviors. If a child tells a lie, she can change that behavior. If she is a liar — where's the potential for change in that?"
So if we want our kids to change, I'm thinking shame is not the best choice.
We're better than this
And yet, I read comment after comment applauding these parents for their "tough love," saying, "That kid will be thankful someday that her parents were willing to do what it took."
I recognize that all kids are different and all parents are doing the best they can. I'm going to assume that, anyway. I'm certainly not writing about this to shame parents who have used social media to punish their children. I am writing this because you are a good parent… a good parent who might have made a mistake. We are better than this. We are better than humiliating our children on the stage of Facebook. We are better than inviting millions of people to take part in the discipline of our kids.
Take away your son's Facebook account and shoot your daughter's laptop if you really think it's best, but don't let the object lesson turn into public flogging. Don't trust all the people on YouTube to view your child's mistake through the same filter of love you surely do. In fact, you probably ought to assume there are some very creepy and cruel people viewing this humiliating video.
Let's show our kids how respect is done, instead of hoping they'll somehow learn respect from us as we show them the exact opposite.