How Not to Embarrass Your Children

Written by NPN Guest on November 17th, 2011

Family Safety, Responding With Sensitivity
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cry baby

As parents, we are trusted to guard our children from those who might seek to do them harm. More than just the threat of strangers around every corner, or the ever-present dread of perverse abusers living in our neighborhoods that we try so hard not to think about, we are entrusted to protect our little ones from ridicule, teasing, and bullying. We pull them away from bullies, we discourage them from the wrong crowds, we screen our own friends carefully to be sure they are people whom we trust around our children.

However, I have noticed something through various posts, pictures, and tweets lately that is starting to cause me some concern. We seem to have no problem sharing cute pictures of babies covered in food, of littles pulling off socks and playing with toys, or of slumbering angels in car seats or cuddled with grandparents. However, we have also become quite accustomed to sharing some more private moments of our children’s lives and discussing them rather openly.

“My 4-year-old wet his bed again last night.”

“My 3-year-old isn’t catching on to toilet training and has soiled another pair of underwear.”

“My 5-year-old keeps playing with herself.”

“I caught my 4-year-old masturbating again.”

If these were instances in which we were seeking advice from sites like KellyMom or Natural Parents Network, where like-minded parents congregate to discuss issues they’re having, it might seem justifiable. After all, these are situations that are socially inappropriate and we are looking for methods of discouraging them from these behaviours and doing it gently. In an effort to help our children learn what is right and what is wrong, sometimes it is necessary to provide more information than what might be discussed openly were it any other situation.

But in truth, these are things I’ve seen lately on my Twitter feed, as part of general conversation. Complaints, open statements, that would humiliate most people. Parents feel that it’s okay to post comments like this, simply because our children are young and don’t know that we are talking about them like this. They can’t read. They don’t know how to use a computer. They won’t care. We can share these stories, right?

Here are my thoughts on things like this: If I wouldn’t want it posted about me, I don’t think it’s appropriate to post it about my daughter. I wouldn’t want to scroll down to my husband’s Twitter feed and see, “My wife peed the bed again last night!” How horrifying! How humiliating! Or a post of me in an uncompromising position. I’d be mortified! Or a long post my husband wrote about how loudly I passed gas. I’d be devastated.

Why then, do we think it’s okay to post things like this, as general conversation or complaints, about our children? Sure, it seems cute and funny, to us. But would it to our children? These are the sort of statements that should be discussed with doctors, with experienced friends, or with your partner. Not something for the whole world to see.

First off, depending on what the behaviour is, it could be something they can’t control. One of my friends has a child with an underdeveloped bladder, meaning the child doesn’t have appropriate control over it and often has accidents. Another child has behaviour issues and one of his ways of expressing himself is to soil himself. It’s an indication that he is going through some form of stress. These are not things our children can control and we should not criticize them for their behaviour. Our response, instead, should be to gently and nurturingly determine what the issue is, and help them find ways to cope.

What’s more, it’s just plain embarrassing. You are telling the world a secret that you wouldn’t want spoken of about yourself. It’s not appropriate, and it’s not fair. Have you never been out with your child and had them say something unkind to you? Maybe calling you fat, or saying that you have a big nose? I can remember a visiting cousin telling my friend’s aunt and grandmother they had “big, juicy thighs” in front of the whole family at a reunion. I can tell you, they were quite humiliated at his inappropriate outburst. Wouldn’t you be?

I’ve written before about how the internet is forever. And that’s just as much the case here. We can all remember being in the play yard at school, being teased for something — our funny teeth, our big glasses, our mother kissing us twenty times before she dusted our bums off as we tried to get to school without anyone seeing us.

We have all been teased, sometimes mercilessly because of something our parents did. And it is never pleasant. I can recall one time when I received a good mark on a test. At that time, we were required to take our tests home and have our parents sign them, to show that they’d seen the test. Usually my mother signed my test but in this instance, my dad was available and he signed it. What’s more, he wrote, “Great job, honey! I’m so proud of you.” I was mortified. I hid my test and passed it back to my teacher the next day without anyone seeing it. My poor father didn’t understand what he’d done that was so wrong. But he had embarrassed me, and I couldn’t let my friends see it! I’d have been heckled and teased for my father’s kind words. As a grown-up, I can see he meant well and was trying to be supportive. But at the time, it was so embarrassing!

The problem with our current situation is that, thanks to the internet, our parents can embarrass us online, thus creating a permanent memory of all that we have done wrong. Photos of exploded diapers, or of inappropriate behaviour, or the results of our uncontrollable bodily functions.

Our children begin to experience embarrassment between the ages of 15 to 24 months. In other words, by the time they’re 2 years old, they can begin to feel shame, exposure, humiliation and discomfort. Our children will experience school-yard bullies, pompous teachers, hard-headed coaches, and mocking siblings. They don’t need us to further their pains.

My plea is that you think before you post something so delicate on the Internet. Would your child appreciate looking up their name on Google in a couple years and finding a post you wrote on your blog about how they soiled their sheets every night for six months? Or a picture of them touching themselves? Or a tweet about them making an inappropriate gesture? And you know that other children will look up their friends online as well. You look up your friends online, all the time! How many old chums have you reconnected by finding them on Google or Facebook? Heck, I bet you and your child might have even sat down and looked up his friends together.

Imagine you looked up your child’s best friend and discovered a picture of him wearing his mother’s bra. You know it’s just a cute picture. You know it’s adorable and funny. But your child doesn’t. To him, his friend is doing something wrong. And the next time your child sees his friend, what’s he going to do? Tease him? Call him names? Make fun of him? You wouldn’t want that, and you wouldn’t want it for your child, either.

In the end, consider this: If you wouldn’t want that photo, comment or post written about yourself, please don’t write it about your children.

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Nada is a first-time mom to a delightful little girl and the wife to a wise and wonderful man. With a background in fitness and nutrition, she enjoys healthy cooking, green cleaning, and especially writing, and has acquired a vast knowledge of interesting little facts…about everything! She aspires to be a Godly woman that her daughter is proud to call “Mom” and through her blog, miniMOMist, she discusses how attachment parenting, minimalism, simplicity, and frugal living help in her everyday mission.

10 Responses to How Not to Embarrass Your Children

  1. Janine  

    FOR REAL. Thank you for this post! I am racking my brain to see how guilty of this I am and I think I come out OK. My “baby poop” status updates stopped after a few months and I started considering my words more carefully. Talking about your newborn is one thing but I majorly cringe when someone posts about their constipated preschooler on Twitter. The Internet is totally forever.

    I will say that I disagree about the wearing the bra bit, so long as my child was happy in the picture. That doesn’t really seem embarrassing to me, which I guess is where it gets tricky and subjective, which is part of your point I guess. It’s hard to draw the line.

    • Nada  

      Hi Janine,

      Thanks for your comment. I just think it’s a matter of mutual respect. Some people are certainly more open than I am, and sometimes within the same family, some people are more open. My husband is more modest than I am. But I think it’s important to respect how our children might feel as they grow up. Thanks for your thoughts!

  2. Momma Jorje

    My trouble here is that even with most TMI type topics, I don’t mind what people know about me. I don’t know yet, though, how private my daughter will be. My older daughter is amused by her amusing poop stories from when she was little, she’s heard them so many times. They’re family favorites! My youngest is a nudist (like Mommy!), something that makes me proud – not embarrassed!

    So I think there is a fine line and it isn’t necessarily the same between one family and the next.

    Great post, though. I can appreciate the idea and there are certainly things I don’t post about my teenager because I know she wouldn’t appreciate it.

    • Nada  

      Hi Jorje,

      Oh I agree, the line is different in every household. I just feel uncomfortable when I see some comments in my Twitter feed. There is a fine line between what is funny and what is embarassing. Each person’s line is drawn. I just think it’s important to protect our children, as we are never sure where their line is until they’re old enough to say so. :)

      • Momma Jorje

        Ah, I remember someone telling me about their in-laws pointing and laughing at their small child over something (like wetting their pants or something). Absolutely horrid behavior!!

        People so easily forget that children are small human beings. They are individuals, not things we own.

  3. teresa  

    This is really timely for me. I just had a wake up call of my own. I posted a photo of my 4 1/2 year old daughter and when she saw it, she wasn’t pleased even seeing it on the computer. She didn’t know it was on the internet.
    She’s gotten really private lately and I felt like I’d missed something important. I am thinking about it all so much more now. I have to even go back and see what’s already “out there.” I agree that it’s important. I was still thinking of her as the little baby “I” had, that “I” was raising, etc… when she’s been a whole person all her own the whole time.
    Now… can we talk about how she is squashing my personality claiming that every thing I do that is fun or silly or in song embarrasses *her*?!!! Geez, can’t a mommy get a break? I didn’t think this would start for years.

  4. Amy  

    I agree and I thank you for highlighting such an important piece of relating about our children.

    I often think before I share *any* information about my children because I feel it is my responsibility to see them in their highest, truest light … not express some momentary frustration about what may or may not be going the way I’d like as a parent.

    Appreciate the reminders. :)

  5. Christina

    I actually am bookmarking this one to possibly share with my parents if I can find the right way to do it. It’s not just situational discomfort the child experiences but a whole life time of affected self-esteem. When I was a little late for my potty training graduation, my dad used to shove a camera in my face and click away while he captured my shame- and I had to clean the mess too. Thanks for the post.

  6. Michelle  

    Thought provoking, logical words. I sometimes wonder what goes through parents’ heads. We’ve probably all smiled inwardly at things our children have done but to share these things with other people is over-stepping the mark, in my book.

  7. melissa aka equidae

    Totally agree I dont post much about my children and when I do I try to check my words. IT can be very humiliating if one had to see it one day

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