You've probably read about the kid-shaming videos that parents have been posting online. A dad cuts off his teenager's hair to teach her a lesson and shares the video on Facebook. A mom punishes her son by making him hold a humiliating poster on a busy street corner, and the photo gets thousands of retweets on Twitter. These viral videos have appeared all over social media in recent years, but the practice of shaming children is nothing new — and neither are its side effects. Simply put, it isn't pretty what happens in your kid's brain when they are shamed.
Shaming a child can take on different forms, concluded Psychology Today, including physical punishments like spanking, public reprimands like posting embarrassing videos online, and more subtle forms of belittlement like making a kid feel dumb or "bad." When kids feel shame over long periods of time, it puts undue stress on their developing brains, according to Parenting. If left untreated, this stress can lead to serious effects, from poor decision making to mental illness.
A study in the Child Psychiatry & Human Development journal found that shame-prone children often feel worthless and small, which can turn into feelings of irrational anger that can lead to acting out destructively. These same children are at higher risk for deviant behavior during their teenage years, usually taking the form of having unprotected sex or using illegal drugs.
Shaming a child can also cause anxiety, depression, or even post-traumatic stress disorder in a kid. This is because children's brains are very malleable and shaped by their experiences, especially traumatic ones like abuse or neglect or shame, pointed out stress expert Bessel van der Kolk in an interview with health news initiative Side Effects Public Media. In short, the effects of shaming can be deep and long-lasting, impacting children mentally, emotionally, and behaviorally.
If your child is a victim of shaming, there are ways to help them heal and feel loved. Be sure to talk regularly with your kids and actively listen to them to build trust and communication, suggested Parenting. You should also consider incorporating more exercise into your kid's daily schedule because physical activity can improve brain chemistry, says Richard A. Honaker, M.D., F.A.A.F.P., in an interview with Romper. But if your child is still struggling, don't hesitate to contact a mental health professional to address the effects of shaming.
Simply put, child-shaming is a form of abuse. Whether it happens on social media or in the privacy of a home, the act of shaming causes pain and mistrust that can severely affect a kid's brain development — but there is hope. With positive reinforcement and supportive parenting (not to mention the help of a mental health provider, if needed) a child who has been shamed can go on to live a healthy adult life. It may take a lot of time and patience, but you can help your child to heal and thrive.