Embarrassment and Shame: Terrible Idea or Ideal Technique?
Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson
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A popular talk show host recently featured a story about mothers who used social media to punish a child. One mother posted a photo of her daughter holding a sign that explained the bad thing the child had done. Another posted a child’s punishment to her own and to the child’s Facebook pages. When others commented, the child was made to respond, saying what she had done to earn the punishment.
One of the mothers justified shaming her child by saying that this is no different than her own parents, back in the day, telling the neighbors about a dumb thing she’d done. Is it the same? And whether it’s the same or not, is it a good thing to do?
Raising teens is as frustrating today as it ever was and it’s still difficult to get a teen’s attention. One of the mothers the talk show host interviewed said that publicly embarrassing her daughter on Facebook was the only way to get a response from the child. So what do you think: is public embarrassment and shaming a terrible idea or an ideal technique for managing your teen?
Let’s start with the job of a parent of teenagers. It’s our job to help a kid make the transition from being 10 to being 20. The ten-year-old is dependent on his parents, he can’t make many decisions on his own, and he definitely needs someone to keep him on track in a lot of ways. The 20-year-old person is nearly an adult. He’s making most of his own decisions and may even be living on his own. He still needs the guidance of Mom and Dad, of course, but only for major decisions and only along with the guidance of his friends and other adults. A lot happens in the decade between childhood and adulthood. If you want your 10-year-old to grow into a capable and responsible adult, then you have to work on that every day until he turns 20.
So every interaction you have with your teenager is an instructional moment. And in every instructional moment, two things are taught: what to do and how to do it. When your child makes a mistake or disappoints you, you want to teach her a different thing to do. And you also want to teach her how to confront someone who has made a mistake, how to guide someone in choosing a better path, and how to not let her anger and frustration take over.
This is where public embarrassment of your child fails as a technique. It may indeed be effective in stopping whatever it was that you didn’t like. But it does nothing at all in teaching your child how to react to another person’s failings. Adults do not go out of their way to purposely embarrass or shame someone else. A friend who did this to you would quickly become your enemy. Embarrassment and shame may stop a behavior but they also destroy trust and create hard feelings. This is not what you want for your child or for the relationship you have together.
The years between 10 and 20 are important in shaping the sort of adult your child will become. But these years are also important in shaping the bond between you and your child for the future. If it is important to you that your child trust you, that she think kindly of you, that she respect your opinions, and that she come to you for advice, then the teen years are the time to build these feelings. These years are too precious to waste on childish displays for all the world to see of her missteps and of your frustration.
Ultimately, resorting to embarrassment and shame reveal the parent as the one who is immature and petty. Be above that. Show your child and show your friends what real grownups look like.
© 2012, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.