CyberParentPower Topic of the Week
I recently came across a powerful message about the case for hope delivered by Jeff Cavins, in his talk called Shameless: Seeing Yourself as God Sees You (CD by Lighthouse Catholic Media). He offers an insightful and practical explanation of the nature of shame and the role of shame in our lives.
His message made sense to me, especially since modern childhood and family lifestyles with cyber-powered communications is colored by so much raw exposure to messages and experiences that bring in shame to appear as an emerging new norm (i.e., murderous violence and suicide by youth, sexual exploitation, bullying, and commercial and popular cultural influences measuring our worth by standards well beneath us).
In this climate of unrest, Cavins’ observations are provocative and offer parents some perspective in helping children overcome anxiety, depression and other mental health issues that can inspire hostility to wisdom and weaken the parent-child bond. So first let us review a summary of the most salient characteristics of shame he put forth as I interpret his message:
- Shame is associated with hiding and disappearing; we don’t want people to look at us. (My two cents: In this way we cannot be authentic. There is a lot of fear and fakery going on, pandering to the crowd. Think Miley Cirus.)
- It colors who you are and how you look at yourself; it also takes what should be private, making it public (and this could not be truer than in the social network).
- The legitimate purpose of shame is to guide your conscience. (It is a correction thing, like moving the compass to true north.) And since the fall in the Garden of Eden we are susceptible to receiving shame as a way of life; this is the human condition.
- Bad shame happens when you receive shame because of something that was not in your control: such as something your parents did (alcoholism, abuse), something your children did (failure at something that mattered more to you or inspires your worry about what others think about you as a parent), or circumstances (teasing/bullying, being criticized). This is why forgiveness is power. It allows us to forsake any shame in our own hearts and minds associated with what others have done. (Note it also means we hold individuals accountable with mercy, and establish boundaries with people who are not safe for us).
- Legitimate shame happens when you had a hand in it, and hell is bearing your shame forever. That is why repentance is necessary. Repentance means we use our free will to change our ways, to steer our own hearts and minds for course correction. Repentance replaces shame and brings us into alignment with God’s will for us, which yields peace and prosperity. Course correction is an individual decision. Parents, this is an important reason for governing the home with the discipline that gives children the experience to exercise their free will wisely, with natural consequences absent condemnation, and a clean slate so they can stand corrected without shame.
In three decades of parenting I have come to appreciate shame as a state of heart and mind that binds us into isolation, hopelessness and fear, while legitimate shamelessness is completely open to the hope for a better and more secure future rooted in and guided by the promise of God’s love. Below are some considerations for the role of shame in our homes and society and its impact on the parent-child bond.
Shame keeps us from disciplining
How many of us struggle with the hypocrite syndrome? You know, when you hesitate to prohibit something that you perhaps did as a teenager or even in your recent past. Prohibiting alcohol or expecting teens to honor a curfew are a couple of examples that come to mind. Consider that holding the line for what is legal and safe is for the child’s benefit; it’s not about you so much as what your child needs to be secure.
Kathie Sinor is a health educator at Granite Bay High School in Granite Bay, California, and a member of the Coalition for Placer Youth Steering Committee in Auburn, California. “I work with ninth graders, and there is tremendous stress and anxiety over their futures as they believe they must succeed exactly like mom or dad,” Sinor said. “Children need to learn coping skills to handle stress in a healthy way, or they are at risk of self-medicating to treat anxiety and depression.”
We know more today about how adversely the adolescent brain is affected by drugs and alcohol, and more importantly how the cyber-powered communities intensify the risky levels of substance abuse in response to stress, so holding the line on a boundary to keep kids safe and healthy is a reasonable, loving thing to do no matter how our children protest. Safety boundaries are established because your child’s life matters, and because you care. So in this regard it has nothing to do with your ego, what you did or didn’t do as a teenager, or what the neighbors will think.
The hypocritical part comes in when we judge them when they mess up, no matter how badly, as if their mistakes or poor judgment are worse than that of our own foibles. Or just as problematic, make excuses for poor choices because we associate shame with correcting them. In these ways, children may experience shame that is not legitimate, or they learn the wrong lessons about how to use their free will because poor conduct is being condoned.
Striving to live above the fray requires role clarification
How many of us experienced discipline as a shameful experience and do not want to relive it with our children? If we are still associating discipline with shame, it can mean that we do our children a tremendous disservice. When we correct our children, with a merciful heart, and help them understand how their lives will be better by choosing a different course that involves acting on virtues such as trustworthiness, kindness, compassion, safety, being lawful, and honesty, this is love in action. It is our “pathos”, our heart, our compassion for their personal liberty that gets communicated with discipline expressed as God’s love which does not shame, but definitely has resolute standards for choosing correct thoughts, feelings and actions in a world that seeks to manipulate us.
So parents need to first be clear about their role as the custodian. As the guardian they have a responsibility to know their child’s business and respect their privacy, but not grant it. There is a difference. Respecting their privacy means that you do not share inappropriately with others that which is personal and is not your story to share without permission.
Adolescence in particular is a very turbulent, painful time of transition that is fraught with shameful experiences that inspire children to set up barriers between themselves and their parents. Dr. Angela Chanter, Co-Director of Therapeutic Solutions 360 and Co-Founder of Full Circle Adolescent Services in Roseville, treats youth with mental health issues, including recovery from addiction, as a family matter. “When parents who care deeply about their children ask me how much money it will take to help their child get well, I explain that it is more a matter of personal investment on their part to engage and understand their role in the healing.”
Chanter observes that the issue of bonding with teens is a matter of navigating injury, or rough patches, kids experience during adolescence as they begin to separate from mom and dad. And according to Chanter, when parents give in to the pressure to grant privacy and blind trust because their teenagers are so capable and independent, there is tremendous risk.
“If the parent doesn’t navigate that injury and disconnects, then the teen is left emotionally alone and gives cause to feeling like they are the ‘3rd parent’ and entitled to be independent [thus] causing parents to [then] react harshly or to disconnect further,” Chanter said. “The interesting back side to too much independence is underlying anxiety that the youth are ‘bigger’ than their parents. Kids need alpha parents who honor the wisdom their children do possess, [and who] set clear and fair expectations.”
We all know that pre-teens and teens may express their feeling of injury by withdrawing or expressing hostility to any parent attention. Often there is confusion between private and secret, and trust and faith. Children expect to have privacy from parents (which permits risky secrets), and they equate trust as an expression of affection or esteem, much like we place our faith in God.
According to Chanter, being present in their child’s world on and off line is required in order to better understand your child and communicate effectively about the issues that may inspire states of shame. “Knowing their [SnapChat], Instagram, Twitter, texting, and email accounts, and all that is newly surfacing in the [social network], is a place parents need to understand with regard to how the applications work and have access to view their child’s communication.”
Joanna’s new book offers a guide to strengthen the parent-child bond and instill good boundaries for the safe use of texting and social media, go to: A Google World in the Garden of Eden: Five Family-Safe Strategies for Texting and Social Media.
To host a parent workshop on building a family culture that strengthens the parent-child bond in the social network and in the flesh, contact Joanna firstname.lastname@example.org about Fresh Start.
- Therapeutic Solutions 360
- Coalition for Placer Youth
- Full Circle Adolescent Services
- Recovery Happens
- The Locking Cap
- Fresh Start Family Culture Builder for Household Executives
Proceed to the next article: A brave society confronts the bully: One Saturday in October
Joanna Jullien is an author, educator and speaker on strengthening the parent-child relationship in a cyber powered world. She a mother of two grown sons, the author of The Authority In Me: The Power of Family Life in the Network Culture, produces The Sacramento Cyber Safety Examiner column on Examiner.com, and is the CyberParenting advisor on The Fish 103.9FM. Her new book, A Google World in the Garden of Eden: Five Family-Safe Strategies for Texting and Social Media is now available for PC and all eReader formats including Kindle, Nook, iPad.