A mom posts a video online blasting her teen daughter for posting racy photos to Facebook. Another mom takes advantage of a barber shop offering to give her son an "old man haircut" to teach him a lesson, then shares the photos on social media. These parents' online child shaming acts are far from rare. Just search "child-shaming video" on YouTube, and you will find more than 30,000 matches.
"A parent that shames their child is violating all the basic tenants of what parenting is about," she told Parenting.com. "Parents are supposed to be their safety net."
Shaming children violates their trust in their parents and can lead to permanent, lifelong problems for kids, Dr. Gross says.
"Every relationship is based on early childhood patterns," she explains.
She says shaming can actually change a child's development, putting undue stress on the brain. Anxiety and depression later in life can stem from a shaming incident during childhood. Some kids even suffer post-traumatic stress disorder after being shamed by a parent, or worse yet, commit suicide.
Not only is shaming potentially damaging, it places kids in danger. Child predators go online and look for insecure kids with low self-esteem. A parent who publicly shames a child also makes him a target for bullies at school. After all, anyone can view what's shared online.
Why parents shame
"When parents do this, it was done to them," says Dr. Gross.
They are repeating a cycle of what she calls bullying, even abusive behavior, that only serves to perpetuate more bad behavior, as kids take out their anger on others at school or at home.
Shaming is also often a last ditch effort for parents who have tried other ways to curb bad behavior.
"When a parent can't think of anything else to do, they resort to shaming. They think they've done a dramatic enough discipline behavior that will stop their child's behavior. By exposing them, they think they will control them," she says.
But she says shaming is a loss of control and a display of immaturity for parents.
"It's not really discipline at all. It's reactive behavior. They have created so many problems in the long-run," Dr. Gross says.
Admittedly, it can be easy to react emotionally when dealing with a child's ongoing behavior problem.
"Parenting is stressful, and it's constant," she says, and some parents shame their kids online to lower their own anxiety and perhaps gain empathy.
The reality of shaming
"Parenting is not a sprint; it's a marathon," Dr. Gross says. Shaming may make a parent feel like they've won the battle, but the reality is, they've lost the war because humiliating a child erodes trust and a child's sense of security permanently.
Dr. Gross offers this final reminder: "A child is a child. They don't have the coping skills we do." Kids are looking to their parents for guidance on how to solve their problems, not to draw attention to the areas in which they may be struggling.
More effective parenting
Instead of shaming, Dr. Gross offers these tips:
- Sit down and talk regularly with your kids.
- Pick a neutral space, like the kitchen, instead of a bedroom, so everyone is on equal footing.
- Give everyone the same amount of time to speak.
- Actively listen to your child.
- Maintain eye contact during the discussion.
- Say how you feel; don't defend.
- Use positive reinforcement to praise good behavior.
- Create consequences for bad behavior.
- Don't personalize your child's bad behavior.