13 Reasons Why Shaming No More

The impact of shaming has far spreading reach

By Holli Kenley

It’s a fact that shaming breaks one’s spirit.

There has been quite a bit of buzz regarding the Netflix series, 13 Reasons. Why? Because of my interest in youth, my background in cyber bullying, and my years of advocating for victims of all kinds, I wanted to watch it. I did. Today’s conversation is not about the controversies surrounding the series or the pros or cons of it. It is about one behavior – shaming – which permeated the entire story-line. Many of our kids are navigating environments of shaming, both in their real lives and their on-line lives. It is our duty as parents, guardians, educators, health care professionals and anyone who cares about our kids’ well-being to ensure…”shaming is no more”.

When most of us were growing up, we saw kids being made fun of. We “put down” other kids or played jokes on them. Or, we were the ones who were teased and taunted. At the same time, most of us were able to establish friendships and we learned about trust, loyalty, and mutual support. We cared for one another and wanted the best for each other. As I watched 13 Reasons Why, I was reminded how shaming, a type of bullying and cyber bullying, has become a normative behavior. Our kids are exposed to it day in and day out. In fact, shaming is so prevalent, most kids don’t recognize it as an abusive behavior. However, what makes shaming so damaging and dangerous are its insidious egregious effects. Incessant or re-occurring indirect or face-to-face shaming cuts at the core of an individual’s sense of worth and value. Shaming disgraces, dishonors, discredits, degrades, and defames another person. Shaming is humiliating and embarrassing. This is important –

Shaming is internalized as self-doubt and
self-hatred. Chronic and on-going shaming can and
will lead to a complete sense of worthlessness, powerlessness, and hopelessness.

Several students in the film appeared to be conditioned to and unaffected by the toxic ringers which were constantly thrown at one another. However, most of the kids, at one time or another, expressed their hurt in a variety of unhealthy ways. Some retaliated. Others buried their shame. Many students chose or continued to engage in unsafe behaviors to prove their worth even at the risk of further shaming. The main character in the film, Hannah, was shamed by her best friends, by some who called themselves friends, and by anyone who felt like it because it was ‘no big deal’.

And what I found so tragic was that Hannah didn’t appear to know that she had every right to feel embarrassed, humiliated, and degraded.

She didn’t grasp that no one, including adults, can tolerate that kind of on-going trauma and emotional torture and feel good about themselves.

We must understand that when no one steps up and calls out what is going on, victims will blame themselves. They will see it as a defect of self – not the fault of someone else.

As young people navigate through the stages of adolescent and teen years, their identities and egos are developing. They are vulnerable and they are fragile. They may put up a strong front so as not to appear to be weak or afraid, but no young person can develop a strong sense of self or worth in the face of constant adversity, especially when it comes from their peers. In addition, with 24/7 online exposure to physical, social, racial, spiritual, ethnic and political (etc.) shaming, our children are learning that it is an acceptable/normal behavior. For young people to think that shaming is just a part of everyday life and that something is wrong with them if they can’t ‘toughen-up’ is an indictment on our culture and on those of us entrusted with their well-being.

How can we help our kids? It starts with each one of us.
Parents, Guardians, and Youth
Whenever we see shaming, hear it, or become of aware it is going on, call it out. Say what it is and explain how it harms another person. Do not remain quiet. By doing so, we are condoning the behavior.

Whenever possible, if you are a bystander to shaming, step in and help. Stand by the target. Stand up and support the individual in any way which is helpful. If nothing else, escort the individual from the situation. Stay with him or her until you are in a safe place.
Reach out to individuals who you know have been targeted. Even if shaming is not happening “in the moment”, show this person what kindness looks like. You might be the only person that day who shows any concern or care for the individual.

Parents, Educators, Counselors, Youth Group Leaders and Advocates
Address shaming in your homes, curriculum, and in your practices. Discuss the word “shaming” and draw from examples in real life and on-line interactions. Talk about how shaming “feels” and ways to work through it. (See resources below)

If you choose to view 13 Reasons Why, do so first without your children. I believe the series can be utilized for teaching our children about the harmful effects ofshaming and helping them with a number of social behaviors and dangerous situations. Talk about the characters, their choices, and what could and should have been done differently. Talk about the adults, including the teachers, counselor, coaches, and others and how their actions or lack of contributed to the culture of shaming. Talk about what they could have done differently.

These five protective steps are a start in the right direction! However, just as with any kind of cyber bullying or bullying, shaming is not a cause. Shaming is a behavioral manifestation of a serious underlying issue. This is important.
Shaming is a symptom of the inability to feel empathy for another person.

How can we help our kids?
We begin by teaching them kindness, empathy, compassion, and respect.
We begin by modeling it.

Yes, we need to teach them and model the behaviors. We must address the root of the problem in order to change it. And this cannot be a “one and done” hour long meeting or assembly. This must be an ongoing curriculum and discussion. I’m going to leave you with some valuable resources which can be easily implemented into any advisory, homeroom, after-school club, counseling group, or church group or organization. These materials are free. I have read and studied each program thoroughly. As a former teacher, I highly recommend each one. Complete and thorough lessons plan are included within each.

  • “Our K-12 Digital Citizenship Curriculum” www.commonsense.org Common Sense Education – Howard Gardner, Harvard School of Education
  • “Words Wound: Delete Cyber Bullying and Make Kindness Go Viral” www.cyberbullying.org Cyber Bullying Research Center – Justin Patchin and Sameer Hinduja (Best suited for intermediate and middle school levels). There is a cost for the book, but not the Leader’s Guide.
  • “Don’t Laugh At Me” (K-12) Social Emotional Learning www.operationrespect.com Operation Respect – Peter Yarrow This program is suited for all children, especially those who connect well with music, art, theatre, and other creative venues.

Shaming falsely elevates a broken character.
Showing kindness further enhances a beautiful one.

Publishers Notes: Holli Kenley is an American Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and the author of “ Daughters Betrayed By Their Mothers: Moving from Brokenness to Wholeness” and “Power Down & Parent Up!: Cyber Bullying, Screen Dependence & Raising Tech-Healthy Children”