The Problem with Kid-Shaming

By Tracey Dowdy

An Internet-age phenomenon that often says more about the parent than the child.

“I am a bully. Honk if you hate bullies.” That’s the first image that came up when I did a Google search of what seems to have become a popular form of discipline for some parents – a picture of a child holding a poster while standing on a street corner with his dad by his side.

Kid-shaming isn’t new. It’s been around as long as the Internet, and every once in a while a story comes along that puts it back in the news. Remember the dad that posted a YouTube video of himself shooting his daughter’s laptop after she complained about doing chores on Facebook? Or how about the viral photos of the dad who wore ‘short shorts’ out to dinner to teach his daughter a lesson about modesty? Then there’s the dad who posted photos after he cut his son’s hair like an old man’s to teach him a lesson about acting his age.

Compare that approach with this quote from Dr. Brene Brown who has spent the last decade researching shame: “The difference between shame and guilt is the difference between ‘I am bad’ and ‘I did something bad.’”

That statement stands in complete contrast to the kid-shaming approach to parenting. There are a lot of miles between ‘I am bad’ and ‘I did something bad’. Asking strangers to honk at your son if you hate bullies is inviting strangers to hate your child. Is bullying acceptable? Absolutely not. So why is it okay if the individual being bullied is a child and the bully is a parent?

Ishtar Gabriel, Child and Family Therapist at Bayridge Counselling Centres and founder of KIDU, says, “How could anyone see this as an effective form of parenting? The one individual who should be your ally, your protector, the one who stands beside you against the bullies, is the one making you a victim.”

To be fair, most parents can relate to feeling overwhelmed or at a loss with what to do with our children at some point in our lives. Whether it’s a toddler having his third meltdown of the day before you’ve finished breakfast or a teenager who thinks she has a right to privileges she hasn’t come close to earning, there are times when we’ve all felt defeated.

Most of us can also relate to having those moments happen in public – a “Terrible Twos” meltdown in the aisle at Target or a teen giving us an attitude in front of their friends. Too often we feel embarrassed and the issue switches from why this behavior is happening to “You’re embarrassing me.”

And that may be the crux of the issue. Kid-shaming is less about changing behavior and more about punishing a child for humiliating you. It’s not about “You need to learn self-control,” it’s about “You made me look incompetent as a parent.”

It comes down to the difference between punishment and discipline. Punishment seeks to assign a penalty for an action. It tends to be reactive. On the other hand discipline is responsive. It takes the focus off what was done and looks at the reason behind it. Punishment seeks to change behavior by instilling a fear of what will happen if the individual commits the offense again, while discipline looks to change the behavior behind the offense so the individual understands why what they did was wrong.

More importantly, discipline separates the child from the action. Going back to Dr. Brown’s quote, it’s the difference between being bad and doing bad. Kid-shaming may bring short term changes but ultimately the long term consequences won’t bring your desired result. If anything, the child has learned not to trust you.

Instead, my challenge to parents is to teach your children this lesson from Dr. Brene Brown: “You’re imperfect, and you’re wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.”

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.


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