Shaming others publicly has been a social practice that far predates social media. When we are not eating, working, or sleeping, hierarchy-happy humans tend to rank, dog-pile, one-up, judge, call out, stereotype, and ridicule. We rephrase it, couch it in clever or passive aggressive phrasing, or slap a hashtag on it to fold it into the now 24-7 public stream. Seldom do we call it what is, which is shaming.
Social media has brought the shaming tradition to a whole new level. We are shaming our dogs, our spouses, our community leaders, celebrities and businesses who may not perform to our liking.
Still, more alarming than all of those targets, is that some parents are subtley—and blatantly—shaming their kids online.
I recently witnessed a frustrated parent share a series of Facebook posts documenting their teenager’s latest series of run-ins with the law. Daily the parent went into a colorful, hand-wringing account of the teen’s delinquent behavior and cunning ability to manipulate others. They highlighted every poor and selfish decision their child made and the pain it inflicted on others.
This went on for several weeks. People chimed in with advice and sympathy for the war-weary parent.
My heart broke for everyone in this family but mostly for the rebellious teenager whose last patch of safe ground slowly vanished with each public record of their youthful failures.
I’m not writing this to call the parent out or shame her into not shaming. I get it. The parent’s pain is real; their fear is palpable and downright terrifying. Few parents emerge from the teen years with hearts fully intact. We’re all walking around a bit dazed and broken, some with limps more severe than others, I concede.
Still, as much as cultural lines may blur in our digital banter, social media will never be the place to parent a child.
A child’s sense of privacy, trust, and emotional security should never be left exposed for public consumption. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should—which ironically, is a key discerning quality that separates a child from an adult.
Nor is the digital town square the place to air your marital, legal, or any relational issues that involve others. The fallout of such public shaming can be devastating as we’ve seen in the media.
A reality check: You might be on a runaway train and not even realize it. Don’t expect people to tell you that your over sharing—or shaming—online is destructive or reckless (or at the very least, awkward for everyone witnessing it). Chances are, others may be scared you might also blast them publically for doing so.
Safe posting rules are pretty simple:
- Keep family business, family business. A social network is a connection platform to be used with hyper responsibility and discretion. It’s not a personal therapy session, a private rant chamber, or your personal diary. It’s a public stage and there are real victims. Your words, once read, cannot be un-read and hurts cannot be un-hurt. Remember, young eyes are watching you and will someday turn around and inflict similar open-air shaming on peers and close relationships.
- Check yourself before you wreck yourself—and others. Be the social media model for your teens. Calculate the emotional, physical, and self-esteem risk(present and future) to your child. Never post online when you are tired, angry, lonely, vengeful, or experiencing a traumatic event or family crisis. Put yourself on social media lockdown until your crisis has passed and your perspective has healed.
- When in doubt, don’t post. If you hesitate in search of a better, “softer” word to express your feelings online, it’s a safe bet you should probably log off until you’ve calmed down.
- Follow the golden rule. Don’t post anything about anyone—including your kids, your employer, and your neighbors—that you would not want posted about you. (And yes—this includes photos of your child or grandchild taking their first “big boy” or “big girl poopie” or flailing in the mall throwing a royal tantrum.)
- Walk a mile. As the Native American proverb counsels, “Never criticize a man until you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins.” If your hope is to see qualities like grace, forgiveness, empathy, and compassion emerge in our kids, all of those traits start with you. Be sure your kids see you extending them—and strangers—everyday grace. Before you criticize that waitress, complain about a business on Twitter, or post a sarcastic innuendo about an annoying neighbor, walk a mile in that person’s shoes. Consider the context of another person’s perceived shortcomings. Your kids are watching and will echo your character accordingly.
These suggestions are not meant to smack you on the hand as a parent or strip down your honesty as you express yourself online. We are all in this together and mistakes are part of the social revolution. It’s simply a gentle reminder parent-to-parent that shame can creep into the most sacred places. Our kids need us on their side of the social lines, protecting them, cheering for them as they grow up—and mess up—without the glaring, often shaming spotlight of social media.