The Real Problem With Publicly Shaming Your Kids


By: Elizabeth Flora Ross

Any parent who spends time on social media has seen it: a photo of a child holding up a sign “confessing” to some transgression. It can range from the seemingly harmless—something every child in the history of humankind has done at one time or another—to the serious, like theft and doing drugs.

Dr. Shefali Tsaberry, author, speaker and clinical psychologist, is not comfortable with the shaming of children in any manner for any reason. She describes shame as toxic. “[Shame] creates disconnection, a betrayal of trust. Shaming never works. Connection is the only way.”

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Katie Hurley, LCSW and author of “The Happy Kid Handbook” agrees.

“Parenting has never been easy, and parents today are navigating new territory,” Hurley says. “It’s difficult to say what triggers one parent to take to the Internet to shame a childfor ‘misbehavior’ while another confronts the issue in the safety of the home, but there does appear to be a combination of anger and control beneath the surface of these posts.”

Children of all ages make mistakes. Trial and error is the business of growing up, and they can’t get it right every single time. Shaming them, online or just in person, causes significant damage to the parent-child relationship. The paren-child relationship should focus on unconditional love and trust.

Personally, the photos I see online, even when they are clearly shared in the spirit of fun and as a way for people to bond over the challenges of parenthood, make me cringe.

“Does that mean parents shouldn’t address wrongdoing?” Hurley says. “Of course not. It means we need to make children feel supported and confident in their ability to work through the hurdles with their parents. When parents try to control kids and shame them into better behavior, kids feel hurt and disconnected. If we want to raise kind, empathic kids who think before they act, we need to remain present and empathic, even when the chips are down.”

Following the suicide of Izabel Laxamana, a result of public shaming, Dr. Shefali was compelled to act. Through her powerful videos, she not only outlines the pain children experience through public shaming but also provides examples parents may relate to.

“How would you like it” she asks, “if you made a mistake at work, and your boss shaved off your hair and posted it on the company’s website?”

She urges parents to look in the mirror and think about their motivations, in addition to the damage they are doing to their relationship with their children:

I asked parents I am connected with via social media to weigh in on the topic of public shaming. Here’s what a few had to say:

“I don’t think it’s a healthy way to discipline children. I wasn’t a perfect teen, but my parents handled me with love and rules. I would have been mortified to have been publicly shamed for cutting class and underage drinking.” —Mandy

“I’m mortified that parents would shame their children like this. I can’t imagine the irreparable damage it does to the children and their self-esteem and to their relationship with their parent.” —P.J.

“I think in general we’ve lost sight of what is local and temporary and what lives on forever without context online. It takes the "moment” out of 'learning moment’ when you put something online. We’re supposed to be teaching, not punishing.“ —Tracy

"To a certain extent, I do believe it’s okay. Now, shaving your kid’s hair into an old man haircut—no. Having your child wear a sign while you video and post it on Facebook—no. Those effects are lingering and consequences are heavy. As parents, we have the splendid opportunity to offer grace and make each day new (and sometimes, with my little people, each moment). With that being said, if my child embarrasses me in public, I will not think about their dignity or pride before I respond. What I mean is this: I will not let a teachable moment pass. I’m sorry if it’s in front of your friends that you decided to cop an attitude, but it will be in front of your friends that you receive the consequence of that.” —Brittany

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Personally, the photos I see online, even when they are clearly shared in the spirit of fun and as a way for people to bond over the challenges of parenthood, make me cringe. While I have never taken or posted a photo of my child holding up a sign, I have engaged in some of the behaviors Dr. Shafali encourages parents to examine and reconsider.

So I am pledging, publicly, to do just that.

Because I cherish the connection I have with my child. I never want to do anything to harm it, even in fun.

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