You’ll no doubt have seen them doing the rounds on social media – a photo of a child, holding a placard explaining a naughty thing they’ve done:
I wrapped toilet roll around the dog;
I smeared chocolate on Mummy’s best dress;
I bullied another child…
And so on.
Sometimes it’s not just a photo of the shamed child. One man shamed his son by filming him running to school in the rain as he drove alongside. The child’s crime was bullying other children.
But, by doing this and shaming him online for potentially millions to see, wasn’t this father bullying his son?
Another mother filmed her son having an ‘old man haircut’ for misbehaving. The video was viewed by millions of people online.
There are over 30,000 of this type of video online – other videos include parents shooting children’s laptops and parents burning children’s toys as punishments for misdemeanours.
Twenty years ago, your child would get a ticking off or have their privileges taken away
But I don’t want to see them. Yet, they’re often appearing on my own social media newsfeeds – from people I would consider normal, good parents and friends.
While I’m all for telling your child off if they’ve done something terrible, this new trend appals me. Twenty years ago, your child would get a ticking off or have their privileges taken away. Then it would all be forgotten and you’d move on.
A child’s ‘shame’ is now filmed, posted and etched into the social media stratosphere forever.
As a mum of two children, aged nine and four, I know how infuriating children can be. We’ve had various incidents happen in our household – just as in any other family – that have driven me to yelling, taking toys away and using ‘the naughty step’.
But would I ever shame my kids online?
Because I think it’s more than just embarrassing. I think it’s terribly damaging and we won’t realise just how damaging for many years to come.
To work out why this trend is growing, we first need to look at how social media use has become as instinctive as blinking for some people.
Get married? Post it on social media.
Get divorced? Moan about your ex on social media.
Have a baby that can suddenly use a potty? Post a video of it on social media.
Make a reasonably nice looking meal? Instagram it or post it on Facebook.
Life – just merely living, breathing, eating, loving, losing – has become something we can no longer just do. Now we need to report it, tell others about it, share it.
And now, shaming too.
But at what cost?
Psychologist Dr Angharad Rudkin says that the main problem is that social media use is ‘habit forming.’
is shaming your kids just another step into the darkness of social media dependency?
She says: ‘In the past, people needed reassurance from family and friends, now they need validation from their social media audience. People also tend to behave in a more uninhibited way online, and are more likely to react without thinking about the consequences of their post for themselves and others.’
So is shaming your kids just another step into the darkness of social media dependency?
I’ve never even clicked on these videos or posts that do the rounds. But what amazed me was how some parents I knew and liked felt that this kind of behaviour was OK.
‘Oh, it’s just a laugh,’ one mum said as she showed me an image of a young child being shamed for missing the toilet again.
Another rolled her eyes at my anger and said: ‘Kids find it as funny as the parents.’
I was stunned. These are caring, empathetic parents; people that I love to spend time with.
I even had one acquaintance who posted a picture of her own child being shamed for smearing her fridge and kitchen work surfaces with Nutella.
I was so angry, I deleted that friend immediately.
Far from being light-hearted or funny, I think it’s sociopathic. Unfeeling. Cruel.
Cast your mind back to when you did silly or naughty things in your youth. Were you paraded through your village or town, placard attached to your front listing your misdemeanours?
No, because everyone would have thought your parent was certifiable and you’d have been taken into care.
What parents are doing now is the online version of public shaming. It’s all very Sixteenth century – just like the women in history who were shamed and paraded through the streets then put on the ‘ducking stool’ in the local river for being a gossip.
Four hundred years later, have we really only come this far?
And what about when these children grow up and find these images of themselves being shamed as kids? It’s bound to have an effect, isn’t it?
Clinical psychologist Dr Rachel Andrew says that these videos are a spectrum in that some parents might post videos or photos thinking they are funny, while at the other end there are more extreme posts which can be damaging.
the child is helpless in this process and might not understand
‘I think some parents might post these videos or photos because they feel part of a parenting community and are sharing the stresses and strains of raising parenthood,’ she says. ‘But parents need to be mindful that these posts will be around for a long time to come. When your child is younger they might be unaware but as they get older they’ll be more likely to see these posts and might feel a sense of shame. They might see these posts and feel that were difficult as a child or troublesome or shameful. So yes, they can be potentially damaging to children.’
Dr Andrew says that one reason these posts get so many views is that parents not only feel a sense of relief that their child is not so badly behaved but also that their parenting style is not as extreme as the person posting the video or picture.
She adds: ‘As a parent posting these images or videos, you’re also holding yourself up for potential shaming which is a sort of leveller.’
So next time you think about forwarding on or ‘liking’ that photo or video of a child being shamed, think twice.
Remember the child is helpless in this process and might not understand.
And remember that child could grow up to see these videos and images for the rest of their lives and feel they were troublesome as children.
And if this is me being too serious or not ‘having a laugh’ and loses me several online friends, so be it.