I love a good dog shaming picture as much as anybody (at least I used to…). But there’s something terribly wrong with the idea of publicly shaming our children through social media, as some people have done through these photos.
At a time when countless dollars are being poured into anti-bullying campaigns and when we know too well of kids who have committed suicide because of bullying, these photos are more than just insensitive—they’re dangerous. Here are children who are in turmoil because of fears, disappointments, and frustrations that they consider to be incredibly real and incredibly painful. Yet rather than soothing the child in tears, these parents have taken photos of them and posted them for others to see and laugh at. This is nothing short of bullying (cyber-bullying, to be specific).
Now, I understand that these photos are meant to be funny and that the reasons for the kids’ tears seem strange and even downright hilarious (like the child crying about losing his rubber duck that’s on top of his head). But these pictures promote disrespect for others’ pain and they give each person the right to judge the pain of others. Instead of promoting empathy for suffering that we might not understand, these photos tell us that it’s perfectly okay to make fun of people who are struggling about things that we don’t think are worth struggling over.
As someone who was bullied as a child (and continues to encounter my share of bullies, as all adults do), these photos make me cringe. They make me wonder how anyone can find pleasure in the pain of others. They cause me to think about what these images teach to the children, teens, and adults who are entertained by them. Essentially, they teach us that bullying is perfectly acceptable and that publicly humiliating other people—made in the image of God—is a viable pastime (and a good way to get lots of hits on your blog). They teach us that there’s nothing wrong with shaming another person as long as it gets a good laugh. They teach us that empathy is overrated.
Of course, there’s much more that could be said about these photos, like what they say about perspectives of children that are common in our world today. And they make me wonder if dog shaming is also a problematic practice (especially considering recent research into the emotional lives of our four-legged friends). But whether these photos make us laugh until we’re sick or they just make us sick, they are part of a hidden curriculum at work within our society that teaches us how we ought to treat one another, not just face-to-face, but also in the public arena that is social media.