Tuesday, January 14, 2014

For Shame

I'm delighted with the response to my Word of the Year post, and I'm going to get back to that with much vigor in a couple of days. However, I'm interrupting the usual flow of banalities found here to talk about something that is sitting like a rock on my heart.

Yesterday I went grocery shopping after work. It was the first time I had been in the store to buy healthy food since the Christmas gobblefest began and I was concentrating on finding everything on my list when out of the corner of my eye I saw a little boy carrying a sign. He was eight or 10 years old, a skinny kid with black hair. I assumed the sign would ask me to buy popcorn from the Boy Scouts, or something similar, so I smiled as I turned to see what he was advertising:


My smile became a shudder. It was as if I had stuck my hand into the silverware drawer and touched a snake. It was shocking, unexpected, distasteful, scary.

Beside Andrew was an angry-looking woman who was matching him step for step down the grocery store aisles and around the corners. She may have been his mother, or his guardian, but because she was wearing the same color shirt as the store employees I don't really know what her relationship to Andrew was. But I wanted to stop and talk to her for 30 seconds.

I wanted to tell her that what she was doing was wrong, and that public shaming of a child is unlikely to have the effect she hopes. That carrying a sign that says "I am a thief" is likely to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. That there are better ways to discipline kids--make Andrew spend some time cleaning out the rotten produce to pay for what he stole. That a publicly humiliated child is either broken or reinforced and you don't want an eight-year-old to be either of these things.

Instead, I turned away as quickly as I could so that maybe Andrew would think I hadn't read his brand.

Please don't think that Husband and I raised perfect angels, or that I was a perfect angel myself. Our boys are the products of all kinds of discipline--talking-to's, time-outs, writing 'I will nots" 500 times, and yes, spankings. But the bedrock rule of parenthood is that you don't publicly humiliate your child. You remove the child from the situation and discipline/teach him in private. To do otherwise is more about the parent's lack of control than the child's lack of character--it is child abuse.

If I had seen a parent beating a child in the grocery store, I would have stepped in. I would have offered to watch the child while the mom took a moment to cool down. I would never have walked past and done nothing.

Andrew, I'm sorry I did nothing yesterday. You were being abused. I won't turn away again.


  1. Oh man, Oldest is 10 so this really hit home. There are times when he has made me so crazy, but the idea of publicly shaming him for anything makes me cringe. Wow.

  2. This current trend (kids on street corners holding signs, on facebook, and as you described, in stores) is horrible. I can't even get my mind to the place where shaming my child (or any child) in public is a good idea.