Friday, November 30, 2012

Is public shame an effective form of discipline?

Recently I saw a picture on Facebook of some parents who took pictures of themselves (intentionally embarrassing) and posted them to their teen’s Facebook page.  Their daughter had been disrespectful to them, and they were posting the photos as a form of “punishment”.  The picture and the news story that followed circulated quickly around the internet and literally hundreds of thousands of other parents “liked” the article to show their support for these parents and this form of discipline.  My question for these parents is: how is that working for you?  Is your daughter more respectful now that you have publicly humiliated her in front of millions of people?  Does she desire to honor and obey her parents?  Does she desire to adopt her parents’ worldview, values and lifestyle?

Life is difficult.  Growing up is not easy.  Kids and teens today have it tough with so many pressures brought on by our high-stressed, fast-paced, beauty-glorifying,
media-driven, sex-saturated, peer-pressured and competition-centered culture.  There are incredible forces working against your kids self-worth and sense of value.  The life of a teenager can be especially difficult.  They face pressures at school to perform academically, athletically, not to mention social pressures.  Many teens wrestle with inferiority, fitting in with their peer group, getting used to being "at home" in their own body, picking friends, the pressures of looking attractive, having a boyfriend or girlfriend, the temptation to experiment with drugs or alcohol, the list goes on and on.  And if that were not enough, they are also trying to figure out their identity, their worldview, faith, values, priorities in life, and thinking about their future ... Whew!

In the middle of this mess of pressures, parents have an opportunity to emerge as an ally and confidant in the life of the teenager.  The home can be a place of stability and sanctuary to the teen who is desperately seeking some anchor for his soul.  A relationship with a loving parent can provide that one 'constant' in the adolescent world of chaos.  But this will only happen of the teen feels that her parents are "for" her, that they want the best for her, that they are in her court and on her team.

The news story mentioned above brings up an incredibly important issue related to parenting and that is: the use of “shame” in discipline.  This example may be a bit extreme, but there are many other ways in which parents directly or indirectly use shame as a form of discipline.  Spanking or yelling at them in public, using phrases like “how could you be so stupid?”, handling a discipline issue in front of a kid’s friends, talking to other adults about your children’s bad behavior when they are standing right there, comparing a child with another, or withdrawing love ... these are all ways that parents shame their kids.  

Kids need to know, even in the middle of discipline, that they are loved and that you are “for” them, that you are on “their side”.  But what does this look like?  In a discipline situation, the parent needs to make it clear that the conflict is between the child’s choices and the rule or principle that has been violated.  They are at odds with their own lack of self-control in the face of that temptation or difficult situation.  You want them to succeed in this battle with their own sin nature.  You want them to win in their fight with their own tendency toward rebellion.  You are not the enemy of the child, you are his greatest ally against our mutual enemy called sin.  

Instead of saying, “You are in deep trouble for hitting your brother!” we need to say, “We don’t hit in this family, we use our words or get help from an adult, to help you remember to not hit, you are going to have a time-out as a consequence.”  

Instead of saying, “I am so mad that you lied to me!” we need to say, “We want to be people who are honest, who tell the truth, I want to help you become an honest person, and so here will be your consequence for telling that lie.”

In place of, “Don’t you speak to me with that disrespectful tone!”  We should be able to say, “The tone you’re using is disrespectful and we don’t treat each other that way in our family.  I will speak to you in a respectful way and I expect you to do the same.”  -- PLEASE NOTE that you can only say this if you really do, in fact, model respectful communication in your home.  If you have not done so well in that area, admit it and make it a family goal.  “I know we have not always spoken to each other in an honoring way, but we are all going to work on this together, so that we can have good communication and talk through our issues in a respectful way.”  

Instead of, “I don’t care about your excuse, you screwed up and were out past curfew, so no going out next weekend!”  We should say, “I hear you saying you lost track of time, I understand that happens.  To help you remember to keep better track of time in the future, you won’t be able to go out next weekend.”  The consequences are the natural outcome of the choices of the child, not some vindictive attack by you.

So, back to the parents that posted embarrassing photos on their teen’s Facebook page.  This is a classic example of a parent turning their training of their child into some kind of competition where “getting even” is the goal, rather than instilling your values into your children.  These parents put themselves at odds with their teen and most likely exasperated the conflict rather than worked toward a peaceful solution.  

May God give us the wisdom as parents to come alongside our children and become a trusted guide and mentor as we navigate together the sometimes dangerous waters of this life.

No comments: