What is shame? Should you use it with your children or protect them from it at all costs? How should you help your kids respond to shame? Today AMBrewster starts a conversation about children, shame, the Bible, and your parenting. Join him as he starts part one with a secular perspective of the issue.
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Today we’re starting a discussion that may likely polarize our audience.
To be honest, Christians stereotypically get a very bad rap when it comes to this topic. It will be interesting to see how we respond to this parenting issue.
Depending on whom you ask, this topic extends far beyond parenting, but for the sake of this discussion, we’re going to limit it our families.
So, what topic could possibly cause this much disagreement? Does it have to do with sexuality, origins, or gender roles?
No, today we’re talking about your children and shame.
Google is really helpful for understanding what a culture believes. Type in words like “children and shame” and the top few hits should tell you how the majority of people feel on a subject.
Well, I did just that, and this is the first article I found.
It’s called “‘Good’ Children — at What Price?” It was written by Robin Grille and Beth Macgregor and I want to take the majority of today’s episode reading portions of it because this is going to set the stage for everything we discuss in the rest of this study.
I’ve linked the article in the description of this episode.
And, due to the fact that the majority of today’s episode is going to be quotes and discussion concerning this article, we won’t be publishing any Episode Notes.
Okay, so here’s why I want to read extended parts of this article. From what I’ve seen in the world and in the church, there are a ton of wrong ways to look at this subject. And I believe this article beautifully explains those Failure Philosophies.
“But, Aaron, if the article is wrong in its conclusions, why would you waste a whole episode talking about them?”
That’s a great question, and understanding that is key to unlocking an extremely important part of parenting. I’m glad you asked it.
I’m going to argue that our biggest parenting failures come from not knowing God’s Word as well as we should. That’s why we focus so much on the Truth here on Truth.Love.Parent.
But I’m also going to argue that biggest parenting failures have a second, less well-known cause. We don’t know enough about the world.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I believe a Christian can glorify God without being intimately aware of all the evil and wicked out there. But I also see in Scripture how the very authors of the Bible themselves couldn’t have written about what they did had they not known the issues inherent in “the other side.”
Paul was very informed concerning the Greek philosophies as he apologized in Athens. Peter — as well as every other writer of the New Testament — was intimately aware of the wrong beliefs of the Judiazers and the various Jewish sects trying to sway Christians away from Christ.
And we’re commanded all through the New Testament to know them, spot them, be able to tell them by their fruits. That’s going to require two things: 1. A knowledge of Truth, and 2. A knowledge of lies.
We as parents too often allow our kids to be influenced by things we don’t even understand. Whether it their movies or music or the conversations had in the halls of their schools, we’re not doing a good job helping our kids identify and argue (at least in their own minds) against the Failure Philosophies with which Satan is trying to destroy them.
So, I have two main reasons for reading this article today. 1. If you have been tempted to think this way about shame and your children, I lovingly want to help you see that you are wrong because this article firmly stands against God’s revealed will. And 2. If you disagree with this article — as you should — you still need to understand that the thoughts and opinions therein are the actual bread and butter of our society. Your kids are having this preached to them everywhere . . . including the church.
You need to know the Truth and identify the lies, and you need to equip your kids to know the Truth and identify the lies lest they be won over.
So, here we go.
"Good" Children - at What Price?
The Secret Cost of Shame
by Robin Grille and Beth Macgregor
They start with a number of illustrations designed to help us understand what shaming is. I’ll read one.
“At an adult's birthday party, a six-year-old is awake long past his bedtime. He is running around the hall with the helium-filled balloons. His father yells at him to leave the balloons alone, and tells him to stop being a trouble-maker.”
And they continue:
“What did these children learn from these experiences? Many would say that the adults' responses were necessary to teach the child the difference between right and wrong: between "good" and "bad" behavior. Verbal punishment is common in almost every home and school. It relies on shame as the deterrent, in the same way that corporal punishment relies on pain. Shaming is one of the most common methods used to regulate children's behavior. But what if shaming our children is harming our children? Could it be that repeated verbal punishment leaves children with an enduring sense of themselves as inherently "bad"? If so, what can we do differently?”
And then they define shame.
“Shame is designed to cause children to curtail behavior through negative thoughts and feelings about themselves. It involves a comment - direct or indirect - about what the child is. Shaming operates by giving children a negative image about their selves - rather than about the impact of their behavior.”
And — at this point — I think all of us would be repulsed by what she’s describing. How many of us actually think to ourselves that we want our children to have negative thoughts and feelings about themselves?
That’s an interesting question, but moving on, the authors give us examples of what shaming sounds like:
“Shaming makes the child wrong for feeling, wanting or needing something. It can take many forms; here are some everyday examples: The put-down: "You naughty boy!", "You're acting like a spoiled child!", "You selfish brat!", "You cry-baby!". Moralizing: "Good little boys don't act that way", "You've been a bad little girl". The age-based expectation: "Grow up!", "Stop acting like a baby!", "Big boys don't cry", The gender-based expectation: "Toughen-up!", "Don't be a sissy!", The competency-based expectation: "You're hopeless!". The comparison: "Why can't you be more like so-and-so?", "None of the other children are acting like you are”.
The next section deals with how pervasive the issue is by citing statistics, and — to be clear — I would not be surprised to find that their research is accurate. According to the study, only 4% of children studied do not experience what they are calling consistent shaming at home.
And then they have a section called, “Shame: A New Frontier of Psychological Study” where they explain why this is so new. For example, the authors suggest:
“The study of this previously "ignored emotion" is such a new frontier because it is the most difficult emotion to detect in others. Dr Paul Eckman, from the University of California, says that shame is the most private of emotions, and that humans have yet to evolve a facial expression that clearly communicates it. Is this why we might not see when our children are suffering from this secret emotion?”
And then they unveil how shame is acquired. I though this was interesting.
“No-one is born ashamed. It is a learned, self-conscious emotion, which starts at roughly two years of age with the advent of language and self-image. Although humans are born with a capacity for shame, the propensity to become ashamed in specific situations is learned. This means that wherever there is shame, there has been a shamer. We learn to be ashamed of ourselves because someone of significance in our lives put us to shame. Shaming messages are more powerful when they come from those we are closest to, from people we love, admire or look up to. That is why parents' use of shaming can have the deepest effects on children. However, shaming messages from teachers, older siblings and peers can also injure a child's self-image. Since children are more vulnerable and impressionable than adults, shaming messages received in childhood are significantly more difficult to erase. Messages of shame are mostly verbal, but there can be great shaming power in a look of disdain, contempt, or disgust.”
The next part is also very interesting because they explain why they believe shaming is so common.
“Shaming acts as a pressure valve to relieve parental frustration. Shaming is an anger-release for the parent; it makes the shamer feel better - if only momentarily. When made to feel unworthy, children often work extra hard to please their parents. This makes the parent think that the shaming has "worked". But has it?”
Now, that should be very telling for us. According to the authors, that is the only reason that people shame. And I have to agree with them a little. Within their worldview where there is no God, there is no absolute Truth, and where even adults act like playground bullies to get their way, they can see no good reason a person might shame another. Unfortunately, their research has huge holes because there are some very different reasons for doing what these individuals call “shaming.”
This next section is long, but we need to hear it because it addresses why the authors believe that shaming is so terrible. It’s called “The Damaging Effects of Shame.”
“To understand the damage wrought by shame, we need to look deeper than the goal of "good" behavior. If we think that verbal punishment has "worked" because it changed what the child is doing, then we have dangerously limited our view of the child to the behaviors that we can see. It is all too easy to overlook the inner world of children: the emotions that underlie their behavior, and the suffering caused by shame. It is also easy to miss what the child does once out of range of the shamer.
“Even well-meaning adults can sometimes underestimate children's sensitivity to shaming language. There is mounting evidence that some of the words used to scold children - household words previously thought "harmless" - have the power to puncture children's self-esteem for years to come. A child's self-identity is shaped around the things they hear about themselves. A ten-year-old girl, for example, was overcome with anxiety after spilling a drink. She exclaimed over and over: "I'm so stupid! I'm so stupid!". These were the exact words her mother had used against her. She lived in fear of her parents' judgment, and learned to shame herself in the same way that she had been shamed.
If children's emotional needs are dismissed, if their experiences are trivialized, they grow up feeling unimportant. If they are told that they are "bad" and "naughty", they absorb this message and take this belief into adulthood.
“Shame makes people feel diminished. It is a fear of being exposed, and leads to withdrawal from relationships. Shaming creates a feeling of powerlessness to act, and to express oneself: we want to dance, but we're stopped by memories of being told not to be "so childish". We seek pleasure, but we're inhibited by inner voices telling us we are "self-indulgent" or "lazy". We strive to excel, or to speak out, but we're held back by a suspicion that we are not good enough. Shame takes the shape of the inner voices and images that mimic those who told us "Don't be stupid," or "Don't be silly!"
Shame restrains a child's self-expression: having felt the sting of an adult's negative judgment, the shamed child censors herself in order to escape being branded as "naughty" or "bad". Shame crushes children's natural exuberance, their curiosity, and their desire to do things by themselves.
Thomas Scheff, a University of California sociologist, has said that shame inhibits the expression of all emotions - with the occasional exception of anger. People who feel shamed tend toward two polarities of expression: emotional muteness and paralysis, or bouts of hostility and rage. Some swing from one to the other.
“Like crying for sadness, and shouting for anger, most emotions have a physical expression which allows them to dissipate. Shame doesn't. This is why the effects of shame last well into the long term.
Recent research tells us that shame motivates people to withdraw from relationships, and to become isolated. Moreover, the shamed tend to feel humiliated and disapproved of by others, which can lead to hostility, even fury. Numerous studies link shame with a desire to punish others. When angry, shamed individuals are more likely to be malevolent, indirectly aggressive or self-destructive. Psychiatrist Peter Loader states that people cover up or compensate for deep feelings of shame with attitudes of contempt, superiority, domineering or bullying, self-deprecation, or obsessive perfectionism.”
Again, I want us to hear this because you yourself are at least partially conflicted right now. The way they describe it sounds so horrible, so unavoidable. There may be some who wouldn’t have agreed with the conclusions of this article before they heard it, but are now at least questioning how they look at life.
Think about your kids. Imagine a teacher or some authority figure spoke this into their lives day after day. How easy would it be for them to believe it?
Do they know what the Bible says on the subject?
Remember what it says in Proverbs 18:17, “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.”
We need to understand this for ourselves and allow it to motivate how we prepare our kids. They are hearing so much, and we don’t know the half of it. Are we equipping them to know the Truth and stand with it?
So, then the authors talk about severe shame and mental illness and discuss how “Shame Doesn't Teach about Relationship or Empathy.”
“While shaming has the power to control behavior, it does not have the power to teach empathy. When we repeatedly label a child "naughty" or otherwise, we condition them to focus inwardly, and they become pre-occupied with themselves and their failure to please. Thus children learn to label themselves, but learn nothing about relating, or about considering and comprehending the feelings of others. For empathy to develop, children need to be shown how others feel. In calling children "naughty", for example, we have told the child nothing about how we feel in response to their behavior. Children cannot learn about caring for others' feelings, nor about how their behavior impacts on others, while they are thinking: "There is something wrong with me." In fact, psychotherapists and researchers are finding that individuals who are more prone to shame, are less capable of empathy toward others, and more self-preoccupied. The only true basis for morality is a deeply felt empathy toward the feelings of others. Empathy is not necessarily what drives the "well-behaved" "good boy" or "good girl”.”
I could not disagree with that any stronger, but the next section is even worse. It’s called “The Myth of Morality.”
“We are naive to confuse shame-based compliance with morally motivated behavior. At best, repeated shaming leads to a shallow conformism, based on escaping disapproval and seeking rewards. The child learns to avoid punishment by becoming submissive and compliant. The charade of "good manners" is not necessarily grounded in true interpersonal respect.”
The problem here is that their view is all one-sided. Are there people who don’t even believe in the foundational roots of morality who use shaming to manipulate people into submitting to them for no other reason than they want conformity to their own standard of morality?
Yes, and yes again!
But the authors are still woefully ignorant of the other side of the argument. They can’t imagine a reality where that isn’t the only reason people shame.
And the authors’ complete misunderstanding of true morality is revealed even more in their next section.
“Shame varies among cultures and families: what is considered shameful in one place may be permissible, unremarkable, even desirable in another. What is called "naughty behavior" is usually arbitrary and subjective: it varies significantly from family to family. In one family, nudity is acceptable, in another unthinkable. Being noisy and boisterous is welcome in one family, frowned upon in another. While one family might enjoy speaking all at once around the dinner table, another family might find this rude. Such examples help us to realize that our way is not the only way: that our own way of deciding what is shameful behavior can be arbitrary and variable.”
Again, there is an iota of truth here. There are people who arbitrarily use shame to control and manipulate people, but their belief that shame is not relational or empathetic, could not be further from the truth when you look at it from the biblical perspective.
This is exposed with even more clarity in their section called "Misbehavior"? Or Developmental Stage?”
“Sometimes what we condemn as "misbehavior" is simply the child's attempt to have some need met in the best way they know, or to master a new skill. The more parents can accept this, the less they are tempted to shame children into growing up faster. For instance, it is normal for toddlers to be selfish, possessive, exuberant and curious. It is not unusual for two-year-olds to be unable to wait for something they want, as they don't understand time the way adults do. It is quite ordinary for three-year-olds to be sometimes defiant or hostile. If we shame instead of educate, we interrupt a valuable and stage-appropriate learning process, and our own opportunity to learn about the child's needs is lost.
“A three-year-old who defies her mother by refusing to pack up her toys - after being told to do so repeatedly - may be attempting to forge a separate and distinct self-identity. This includes learning to exercise her assertiveness, and learning to navigate open conflict. Toddlers can be exasperating. But does this mean they're “misbehaving”?"
If we can’t see the massive delusion in which these ladies exist, it is only because we ourselves do not know God’s Word well enough.
It’s thinking like this that motivates one of our most recent 1-Star reviews. The reviewer said that it was debatable that children had foolishness in their hearts.
To make a comment like that is to contradict Scripture. Listen, you’re free to believe what you want to believe, but you have to be honest enough to say that if you’re right then God has to be wrong.
We can’t have our cake and eat it too. We can’t pretend like we’re on God’s side but live in rebellion to His Truth.
Now, there is a lot more we could read, but I want to wrap up today by reading their conclusion and giving you an assignment to complete before we meet next time. Here’s their conclusion:
“Many people are still convinced that smacking or shaming are the only antidotes for preventing antisocial behaviors in children. The suggestion of giving up shaming or smacking is misinterpreted by some as attempts to disempower parents; to turn them into guilt-laden, ineffectual and permissive wimps. Not so. The most effective and healthy boundaries can be set without resorting to violence or shaming. Being strong with children does not mean being harsh, or humiliating. There are alternatives to shaming that are healthier and more effective. Children who are shown consistent boundaries by parents who are able to express their feelings and needs in a trusting and respectful way, grow up with stronger self-worth and social awareness, free of the toxic effects of shame.”
And here’s your LifeWork Assignment. There are over 150 occurrences of the word “shame” in the Scriptures.
I encourage you to simply peruse them using an online Bible or Bible app. You don’t have to read them all; you don’t even have to understand the context at this point.
Just scan through a selection of the occurrences and try to get an impression as to whether God considers shame to be a positive or negative thing.
That’s all. That’s your assignment. It won’t take even ten minutes to complete, but it will lay a good groundwork for our continuing discussions on this topic.
To be fair to the authors, I have included a link to their original article in the description. You can fact check me and make sure I’ve been presenting their beliefs fairly. You can also read all the things I didn’t quote if you so desire.
I want you to know the Truth and be able to identify the lies.
So, to that end, I’ll see you next time.
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