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Embarrassing Our Children

February 7, 2013 | by Emuna Braverman

Humiliation is never an effective parenting tool.

“Dad Makes Daughter Wear Embarrassing Shirt to School for Breaking Curfew” screamed the Huffington Post headline. Apparently humiliation is the new go-to tool of desperate parents.

The article goes on to cite other instances in which parents have embarrassed their children in order to teach them a lesson.

Unfortunately, they may not be teaching the lesson they think they are. The Torah likens embarrassing someone in public to murder, so deep is the shame.

I say “desperate” parents because I know how they feel. They are frustrated and at their wits’ end. Their children don’t listen, they take advantage of their parents, they are defiant; they abuse their confidence. In other words, they are typical teenagers.

And they need to be met head on with love, a love that is deeper and stronger than the rebellion, a love that their kids know will last, a love that is unconditional.

Public humiliation does not teach that lesson.

Another important idea it doesn’t convey is a parent’s belief in their child. Frightened adolescents need to know that it’s all going to turn out okay, that we, their parents, have confidence in their ability figure things out, to rise to the occasion, to make good choices.

Embarrassing them in public has the opposite effect. It undermines their confidence; it stokes their feelings of inadequacy and powerlessness.

I assume these parents mean well. I assume they want what’s best for their children. But, in their misguided fashion, they are causing them a world of hurt.

A friend of mine recently consulted with me about a name for her first child. The one she had in mind was unusual, to say the least. I counseled against it. Why put your child in that position? A position where they will stand out unnecessarily? Be mocked or misunderstood?

Children are not a vanity project, a place to display our creativity through original names or parenting styles. We need to treat them as the complex human beings they are – or will be.

I feel very sorry for the children in the article. And I feel badly for their parents as well. They are allowing their frustration to block their empathy, to inhibit their common sense.

We are all at risk. Parenting, especially of teenagers, can be very difficult. Parents and children can succumb to frustration and despair.

Thank God, we have a Torah to reel us back in, to give us perspective, to remind us of the Almighty’s qualities of kindness and compassion that we wish to emulate. And to teach us that we should never, under any circumstances, embarrass another human being in public, most especially our parents, spouses and children. It doesn’t make for an eye-catching T-shirt but it sure makes for a better life.

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