Shaming Your Kids Is Not Always A Bad Thing
For most parents, shame and parenting is a very touchy topic. The very word “shame” conjures up stories like the mom who bragged about selling her daughter’s concert tickets, or parents who make their kids wear shaming slogans on shirts and signs. And on the whole, most people seem to feel that public shaming by a parent leaves a bad taste in their mouths.
Historically, I think we all agree that shame has often been used in ways that are, well, shameful. For generations, society made people feel ashamed for things they could not control: because they were born in poverty, because they were the “wrong” race or sex, because they were struggling with mental illness or a disability. But shame has also been used to do great good – non-violent protest movements are essentially a way of shaming a whole society into doing the right thing.
So I, like most parents, have wrestled with this thought: aren’t there some things kids should be ashamed of? I myself have times that I feel what I would call “appropriate shame” – when I am mean and judgemental, for example, or when I lose control of my temper. This shame isn’t crippling; it doesn’t make me feel like a terrible person, inside and out, or affect me socially the way a child who is publicly shamed is affected, but it is a powerful motivation. The shame that I feel is a signal that I have made a decision I should not feel good about, and that makes me re-examine my thoughts and behaviour.
As a result, yes, I feel that shame can have a role in parenting. But obviously, I don’t feel that public shaming is the way to go. So I’ve spent time thinking about how I might make shame a parenting tool, and if I do so, how to make sure that I use it well – because like any tool, the result has much more to do with how I use it than the tool itself.