February 4, 2016

Shaming children, especially in a public forum is something that needs to end.  Two things have happened this week that have prompted me to go on a little bit of a rampage.

A History of Social Media Shaming

There was a viral  “Motherhood Challenge” on social media.  For those of you who don’t know, this one was where a friend tags to you post 3-5 pictures of what makes you proud to be a mother. Shame on you if you were not challenged, you must be a terrible mother. Shame on you if you didn’t post, you must not love your children.

Then, I got an email from a parent reporting that her child had a total meltdown after being publicly shamed in school for negative behaviors. He is yet another victim of the “Clip Behavior Management System.” For those of you who don’t know what this is…essentially, many teachers have some version of this (it might be traffic signs, bumblebees, punch cards, or any other equally demeaning visual). The concept is that a child’s conduct of the day is rated on a chart that goes from E (Excellent) to G (Good) to S (Satisfactory) to N (Not Good) to U (Unsatisfactory). It is meant to help motivate children to comply with classroom rules and teach self-regulation. It also helps teachers communicate with parents about behavior for the day.

The problem with these clip management systems is that they are usually either on a classroom board for everyone to see or on the child’s desk where most everyone can see. The moving of the clip might be done by the teacher or the student but is usually done while all of the other students are watching. Behavior analysts might say this encourages poor behaving children to follow the lead of others well behaving children. I consider it PUBLIC SHAMING. In my private practice, I have found that children frequently have meltdowns when they are told to “MOVE THEIR CLIP” because they also know that getting a negative letter will likely lead to punishment at home (no electronics, typically). In fact, I have frequently recommended that negative behavior at school be addressed at home with similar consequences. I don’t take issue with conduct reports. However, I do take issue with having children on blast in front of their peers on a daily basis.

Overcoming SHAME

Thus, THE CLIP CHALLENGE! The Clip Challenge is a way for ADULTS to experience what it is like to be judged on a daily basis for your behavior and shamed for doing things are in general, developmentally appropriate. Here are the rules,

  1. You start each day on E.
  2. You move your clip down one letter (E –G-S-n-U) for every “off task behavior.”
  3. You publicly report your final conduct grade on your social media page and/or mine at facebook.com/jentaylorplaytherapy under the Clip Challenge thread.
  4. Off Task Behaviors:
    1. Being Late (for work, from lunch breaks…for any reason)
    2. Excessive Talking (to co-workers or on the phone to friends/family during work hours…excessive means ANY).
    3. Not Doing Your Work (Unreturned phone calls, emails, paperwork not filed)
    4. Not Being Prepared (You forgot anything that you need to do your job today)
    5. Doing Something Not Work Related (Checking social media, shopping online)

Are you Ashamed of Yourself?

Teachers might respond and say that is not how the clip management system is used in their class. Maybe not. But I see 100 children a month in my private practice and I would venture to say that over 75% of them have some sort of system like this and these are the comments I read for clip-moving conduct violations. Granted, sometimes it is for stealing, physical aggression or some other discipline worthy event. But generally it is talking, not being in your seat or not doing your work. Stuff I am totally guilty of EVERY.SINGLE.DAY.

Shaming Doesn’t Work

A final thought….these systems don’t seem to work. The kids who are well behaved generally get E’s or G’s every day. The children who are the “discipline problems “ generally get N’s or U’s every day. They are not being motivated by the leaders of the class. They are giving up before they even get started because they don’t feel like they will ever be successful. They are not motivated to get a prize out of some Dollar Store treasure box. They don’t even care about losing their electronics anymore. Why? Because this public shaming sends the message “I AM BAD.” People will say, no…we are focusing on behavior. WRONG…the message I hear from children is “I was bad today. I am bad.” Parents ask kids, “Were you good today? vs Did you have a good day?” This subtle difference reinforces negative self-esteem in kids.

So, as a mental health professional and advocate for children. I encourage you to take the CLIP CHALLENGE. I also encourage you to stop asking your children if they were good or bad today and start focusing on the effort involved in making good choices throughout the day.

What do the schools need to do instead? That’s a question that is more difficult to answer . I will share some of those ideas on another day.


About the Author

Jen Taylor, LCSW-C, RPT-S is an EMDR Approved Consultant and Certified Journal to the Self Instructor.  She is a therapist specializing in complex trauma, an international play therapy teacher and a published writer of multiple play therapy chapters.  Jen is the creator of the original 2017 Play Therapy Summit and many other innovative programs for mental health professionals.  Jen uses writing therapy, play therapy and expressive arts for her clients and for other mental health professionals so they can lead more joyful and meaningful lives.  Jen encourages people to try new things and create daily habits that allow for incremental progress towards previously unimaginable results.   Jen is a travel enthusiast, an avid reader, and a girl who lifts weights and runs for fun.  

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