Should Parents Shame Their Kids Into Better Behaviour?

Last month, a mother in Splendora, Texas, made headlines when she forced her grade 5 son to wear a t-shirt that said, “I am a bully” to school. After finding out that her son had been bullying other children, Star (last name not disclosed) felt that this was the best way to teach her son that it is never ok to bully another person.

With the full backing of her son’s school staff, this mother defended her actions, claiming that she is an “old school” parent who does not believe in bubble wrapping her kids.

She is not the only parent reacting in this way to a child’s behaviour. In March, Bryan Thornhill, a father from Virginia, posted a video of his 10 year old son running to school in the rain, after being kicked off his school bus for bullying other students.

These parents seem to be among a growing number of people who believe that publicly shaming their kids does no harm, and that it will deter children from repeating the behaviour in the future.

But does it work? And should parents be doing it?

The answer for most of us, is no.

Shaming children leads to destroying the trust that should exist between parent and child, to children feeling bad about themselves, and thinking that they deserve this kind of treatment. In effect, shaming teaches them that they are worthless.

It’s not like parents have never publicly shamed their children. All those times Aunt Sally or Uncle Frank heard all about what you had done wrong, were essentially a form of public shaming. The difference today is that parents who engage in this kind of thing are doing it on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and You Tube, where these videos remain a permanent part of the internet. And where complete strangers can witness a child’s humiliation, and share it ad nauseam.

As a (very) informal survey, I asked my four teenagers how they would feel if I posted a video or photo of them admitting to doing something that is against our house rules. I was informed that they would be embarrassed, and that they would feel they could not trust me, and that they would never feel comfortable sharing anything about themselves again.

Often, there is more going on than meets the eye when it comes to children and misbehaviour. Shaming them only teaches a child to fear punishment and humiliation, without them learning why the behaviour was wrong, or how to change their actions in the future.

As parents, one of our jobs is to teach our children how to treat others. If we humiliate them in front of their peers and family members, and by posting it on social media, where even complete strangers can see, how are we showing them that bullying is wrong?

Star, Bryan Thornhill, and other parents who share their opinion, might think that there is no harm in the public shame they inflicted on their children. Their kids were bullying others, and needed to be taught that it is wrong to do so, right?

That lesson though, may come at a very high cost to their future relationships with their own kids.