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What Can I Do to Avoid Shaming My Teen?

One thing I’ve noticed in social media is a tendency for parents to vent about their teenagers. This could be a public rant on a private matter or even extreme examples of parents making their teens wear signs detailing their poor choices. What is even more surprising is how others affirm this kind of parenting as the kind of “tough love” their teens need. As parents, and followers of Christ, we are called to a better way of leading our homes.

Parents can sometimes use unhealthy methods such as shaming, withdrawing love, fostering anxiety, or being manipulative to control a child. This could include a father giving his teen daughter the silent treatment or acting less friendly to a mom saying something like, “If you loved me, you wouldn’t do that.”

It is important for us to understand the difference between shame and guilt. Shame is “the painful feeling arising from the consciousness of something dishonorable, improper, ridiculous etc., done by oneself or another. Guilt is described as “ a feeling of Responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime, wrong, etc. whether real or imagined.” I’ve heard guilt as “I have done something bad and need to change” and shame as “I am bad and hopeless to change.” Shame does not lead to positive change. It does not teach our teen to do better but instead crushes their spirit.

Guilt takes responsibility for a situation and seeks to repair it. Feelings of guilt can even lead to healing. You feel remorse about the situation; empathy for the hurt that it may have caused. This actually creates an accountability to change. Jesus wants us to confess our guilt but not be defined by it. He tells us to confess our sin and then accept his forgiveness. God does not want us to be swallowed up in self-loathing but to trust Him and His identity for us. You can influence how your teen views their shame. The greatest thing you can do for your teen is continually ask yourself what will help them flourish and grow in their relationship with Christ.

There are ways to guard against “guilt-trip parenting.” First, pay attention to how you respond when your son or daughter misbehaves. If you find yourself withdrawing or ignoring your teen when they misbehave, you may be trying to control them with your silence. Second, pay close attention to the cues your teen might be giving you in response to how you are parenting. Their body language may be an indicator of how they receive your words. Finally, talk through your response with your spouse or a trusted friend that will give you honest feedback.

The problem for most of us is we don’t necessarily recognize when we are “shaming” our children in our effort to discipline them. If we can become aware of our tendency to shame, then we can take steps to use other methods for instruction and discipline.

Here are a few questions you may ask yourself:

1. Did I grow up in a “shaming” environment? Studies show that if you were raised in an environment where your parents used “shaming” that you may unintentionally do the same thing. You can learn to recognize if this is a tendency and then resolve to offer something different.

2. Are you parenting out of your own hurt? Many times we as parents will hear a voice inside our heads that speaks to our insecurities. Sometimes these feelings come out in how we discipline our children. What we believe about ourselves will affect how our children view themselves.

3. Is your discipline consistent? When we criticize behavior one day and ignore it the next, we can communicate that it is not the behavior that is “wrong” but that “they” are wrong.

Be mindful of your own heart as well as the verbal and silent messages you are sending your teen. Paul wrote, “Everyone who believes in [Jesus] will not be put to shame” (Romans 10:11). If we, as parents, are not “put to shame” in Christ, our teenagers shouldn’t be “put to shame” by us. Instead we can point our teenager, and ourselves, to a Savior who frees us from shame through his eternal love and forgiveness.