Thoughts On: Shaming Your Kids

Note: This is an old post, slightly edited

A year ago, a discussion came up on TYT that got me all conflicted, as it sometimes does. I’ve realized that when you agree with some people 95% of the time, that only makes the 5% you disagree on feel more jarring. This case had to do with parenting, and whether or not it is a viable parenting strategy to shame your kids.

Jimmy Dore and Karamo Brown – a new occasional co-host on TYT, disagree quite strongly on whether or not subjecting your child to public humiliation is a good parenting strategy. Viscerally, I disagreed with Karamo Brown, but I wasn’t quite sure why. There were other instances of publicly humiliating kids that had been covered by TYT which I did agree was a good strategy, despite the fact that Ana often comes out 100% against it. In this case, however, I found myself siding with Jimmy Dore, although it took a while for me to wrap my head around why that was.

It all clicked when I was watching an old episode of the Atheist Experience. Discipline and parenting had come up, and Matt Dillahunty had a very interesting perspective on the different ways to parent. Paraphrasing, he came up with two scenarios involving kids who misbehave in a restaurant. In one scenario, you tell the child that if they misbehave they will be grounded, if they behave they get an ice cream. In the other scenario, you teach the child why it is rude to misbehave in a restaurant, you teach them to empathize with the other patrons, asking them how would you feel if someone was disrupting your favorite pastime? In the short run you probably get the same result: a child which behaves in the restaurant. However, in the long run, the child who understands the reasons behind their behavior are more likely to be empathetic, and are less likely to misbehave if, for instance, the person doling out the punishments or rewards is not present the next time they go out. It is parenting through instruction, rather than through fear, which I have always been in favor of. Now of course this is a simplistic example necessary to illustrate the point, and all parenting is a combination of instruction and punishment/reward, but I have always found myself in favor of erring on the side of instruction. I have also found myself using this example to illustrate why hitting your kids is not an effective strategy, just replace “grounded” with “smack in the face” or, as per this video, “old man haircut”.
Another layer to it is that I have noticed, in my working with children (despite not having any of my own as of now), that (especially when they are quite young) the more delayed the consequence, the less likely it’s going to work. When they’re getting picked on in school and bullied and laughed at they’re not going to remember that it was because they talked back to their mother or they misbehaved in a restaurant, they’re going to know that they’re feeling miserable right now and their parents put them there. That might inspire fear of crossing their parents (and hey, some parents think that’s a good thing for some reason), or it might harbor resentment for them, but it is often not an effective way for them to connect their current misery as a consequence of a previous transgression.
So give all of this, why was I conflicted at all? It seems as though I pretty much come out against publicly shaming your kids. Why the need to ponder it?
Well, because there have been some cases of public shaming of children when I came out firmly on the side of the parents. However, after going through the previous scenario I understood why.
All of the times I have favored shaming kids, the kids were 1. teenagers, and 2. bullies.
I realized that the reason I felt it was good to shame these kids, was because the shaming was the lesson in empathy. They were kids who routinely laughed at their peers, put them down online or bullied others in one way or another. Knowing what it feels like to be the target of that kind of abuse is something that can teach them to empathize with others.
It wasn’t a delayed punishment meant to create misery for a previous transgression, it was the learning experience.
To be fair to Karamo Brown, he did couch his example of shaming his own child in a lot of sitting down, explaining and teaching language, which I am sure contributed to my feeling conflicted, and which is why I didn’t really disagree with him as strongly as I might have in a different context. I disagree with him very strongly in other situations, but that’s another post for another time.
Where do you come out on shaming your kids?


  1. Baji-Naji says

    I know of one instance where a young teen suicided after her father did a shaming haircut and the film was made public. There will always be better options for parents other than humiliation.

  2. chigau (違う) says

    If the shaming goes on for a loooong time after the transgression, I doubt that it’s useful for changing the undesirable behaviour.

  3. chris61 says

    I don’t condone public shaming of children or teens by anyone, let alone a parent. It might teach empathy but I think it would be even more likely to promote the idea that public shaming is socially acceptable.

  4. tecolata says

    I don’t think a teaching moment, even if publicly embarrassing, is what I would call “shaming’. Shaming is being ashamed of oneself – I am horrible, ugly, stupid, stutty, bad, worthless, unworthy of love. That is not at all the same as a teaching that embarrasses but focuses on the ACTION, not the person.
    When my sister & I were kids, a neighbor boy pushed her and she fell off her bike. Not injured, just banged up a bit. The boy’s father made him put on his Sunday suit, walked him to our house, and in the presence of my entire family, he apologized to my sister for pushing her. I think both kids were equally embarrassed but it was directed against the action, showing the boy that his action, pushing another child off a bike, had consequences. That is quite different from making him stand outside wearing a sign “I am bad” or doing something humiliating and unrelated.

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