Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Bring Back the Shame

The Mrs. and I were talking over Chinese food today about kids and how they are at school these days. We hear all kinds of horror stories because we have a friend who is a high school teacher.

The Mrs. made a very important point to me that I had not considered: kids no longer have shame.

Basically, it means that the things that made me so embarrassed, that I got my act together and did better, don't affect today's child.

I remember being in 1st grade and having the messiest desk in the room. I'd stuff papers inside the cubby hole of my desk and think nothing of it. One day, my teacher came by and said, "Quincy, you have the messiest desk in the school."

I was hurt. I didn't want to be the messiest desk in the school. As I slid out of my desk and squatted down to collect the papers from inside of it, I can remember the other kids just staring at me.

After that day, my desk was never messy again. Why? Because the shame I felt prompted me to want to do better/not be in that situation again.

It starts at home. Doing something stupid wasn't rewarded in my parents' home. There were consequences to what I did. My parents knew how to embarrass me. I knew that if I did something really dumb that it would result in my mom taking a day off work and sitting in my classroom to make sure I acted correctly. Now, that never happened, but the thought of my mom sitting in my classroom and humiliating me in front of my friends terrified me.

Do parents threaten to do that today? I wonder.

Today's child seems immune to shame brought on by criticism. Why? Maybe it's because we reward even last place in competitions. Maybe it's because we use "pleasant" colors to grade homework instead of a big, harsh, red "X" that I received on mine as a child. Maybe it's because behavior levels at school are like terror alerts. "Little Jeffrey is on 'red' today." Garbage. How about "Little Jeffrey is bad and needs some discipline!"

We're too nice to kids. We focus so hard on not hurting their feelings that when they should be hurt, they don't even know it. Kids on sitcoms talk back to their parents and the laugh track plays. You don't think children see this? You don't think they feel as if they're able to say what they're thinking without consequences?

Not in my household! I learned at a very early age that TV was fantasy thanks to "The Brady Bunch". Yes, "The Brady Bunch". That wholesome show got me in a load of trouble as a youth from one particular episode. The episode when Greg called Mike and Carol by their first names instead of Mom and Dad did me in. I tried to call my parents by their first names and my father went off on me like I had called him an expletive.

So, I'm not saying that you have to scream your child down with profanity a la Kenny Powers from "Eastbound and Down". Nor am I saying that you have to break out the belt like James Evans did in the 70's on "Good Times". I am saying to you, no, I am begging you, that you do something to let the child know, "hey, that's no okay that you did that!"

It's time to bring back the shame... hardcore to the brain.

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