Responding to Social Shaming: Escaping the High School Lunchroom Pt 2

In the last article, I described a common tactic that is employed by the world in conversations, a tactic that youth are very vulnerable to.

Actually, adults are vulnerable to it as well, but since I’m a teacher I focus on youth.

In this article, I want to lay out some initial thoughts on how we as parents, church leaders, and Church adults can respond to this social reality and help guide our kids through it.

Many of us already read the Bible verses on handling opposition to our kids and we speak often about the necessity of being bold, having an uncompromising witness for Christ.

That is a good and necessary start, but our instruction should not stop there. We should also add more specific instructions regarding what social intimidation looks like, how to spot it in a situation, and specific responses.

Take a look at part one of this series first if you missed it!

In brief, here are some thoughts:

1. In your own heart, set apart Christ as Lord. 

Make up your own mind here and now that you will not bow to this intimidation in your own heart. Commit to living not by lies.  Even if you don’t directly say anything in the conversation, refuse to burn a pinch of incense to Cesar in your own soul. This is where the previously mentioned scriptural injunctions to boldness and verses on facing opposition can factor in.

Parents, display this in your own life and explicitly talk about the importance of this first step with your kids.

2. Read stories and literature

Read stories and biographies of saints–and others!–who faced down shaming and opposition with ice in their veins.  For example, take the story of Richard Wumbrand, who started Voice of the Martyrs.

These stories and accounts help our young ones put flesh on the principles and values we teach. They help them “see” what courage really looks like.

The stories of believers who persevered under the iron curtain are great for this purpose. Rod Dreher’s Live Not By Lies is an awesome book for this and an example of example of courageous perseverance. The stories of believers who persevered under the iron curtain are great for defining courage.

When it comes to literature, there is a treasure trove of stories in our canon that fits this purpose. Read Lord of the Rings to your kids and talk about the boldness of Frodo and Sam.  Mordor is real.

In scripture, the book of Daniel is great here as a real-life account of someone who faced intense opposition. Daniel is a stellar exemplar of faithfulness under pressure. He is a good model for our own day. My own organization is named after him. We need more Daniels!

3. Train.

I repeat this ad nauseum: you must take your intellectual training seriously for several reasons, the pertinent one here being that without it, you won’t have the chops to be able to spot the ruse when it’s upon you, and you’ll be less skilled at helping your kids navigate this stuff. You must be in the Word, yes, but this goes beyond Bible reading, memorization, and study. You must be a reader, you must be a thinker, you must be a philosopher.

You are already all three of those, actually. The only question is whether you’ll be good or poor at them.

This is just like taking care of your body physically–find a way to make it a priority. 

Here is a brief game plan to make this simpler amidst your (probably) busy life.

Parents, take your intellectual training seriously and build your kids’ minds too. Don’t siphon this off to the youth pastor. This is your job. Without that, your kids will be vulnerable to herd tactics. Here are some suggestions for how to do that.

4. Give them the tools and let them practice.

Give them the tools–the lenses, if you will–that they can use to recognize that they are being had.

Just pointing out the specifics of what I laid out in the first article is a good starting point.

From there, you can role-play situations with them in conversation, ie, “if someone in class says XYZ to you, how would you respond?” Play out the conversation a few rounds.  Play the role of the sheepdog. This kind of “scrimmaging” will help them when a real situation arises.

You can do this while in the car, at dinner time, or somewhere else. Just make sure to do it repeatedly.

5. Teach them specific moves.

If you were a martial arts instructor, be it Tae-Kwon-Do, Jiu-Jitsu, or wrestling, would you simply tell your charges “so, uh, when he lunges at you, you just gotta fight back! Don’t let him do that to you!” Would you leave it at that? No. You’d teach specific moves. Your opponent does X, you parry by doing Y. He does Z, and you do A. So on and so forth.

It is the same for the subject of dodging the social power moves.

This is not about “being combative” or “pointless arguing.” This is about giving yourself and your kids protection so that you and they are not overwhelmed by trickiness and strong-arm rhetoric.  Just like learning Karate doesn’t automatically make you a Johnny Lawrence Kobra Kai bully, learning how to respond in real conversation doesn’t make you a debater who gets hot over meaningless quarreling.

Some specific “moves” can look like the following:

*You don’t need to feel like you have to be stereotypically “nice” (i.e., softening the blow, so you avoid hurt feelings), but neither do you have to “go low” with those who are trying to shame you.

That is, speak the truth forthrightly and clearly, but no need to use ad hominems and invective like they do.

It might be good to think of some specific things you can say ahead of time and journal through it and practice it with a partner/parent. Otherwise, you might trip over your words, your emotions will get the best of you, and you’ll start either rambling or hemming and hawing, neither of which are good.

*When in a conversation where these moves are being employed, before you do anything–like respond verbally–A) pray a quick prayer for help, strength, and calm, and B) breathe two deep breaths. Both are necessary to respond effectively. You gotta keep your BP under control.

*Don’t apologize. If you have done something actually wrong, like calling someone a name or cursing at them, apologize then but do not apologize just because you have caused “offense” or because someone claims you are “perpetuating harm.” Just because you have offended someone does not mean you are wrong.

Apologies will embolden the mob, not placate them.

*Don’t try to strenuously defend your character. A quick comment, maybe, but avoid lengthy pleas for understanding. Instead, go on the offensive.

*How? Point out what they are doing, and make it glaringly obvious. Say something like, “Just now, rather than make an actual argument, you spoke down to me patronizingly, as if I am five. If you want to be taken seriously, you’ll need to use reason to persuade, not social shaming. Can you please explain to us clearly why X?”

Or “you just called me a name. What does that mean? Why did you do that? Notice I have not treated you that way at any time in this conversation, so if you want us to listen to you, you’ll need to come up with something better rather than resorting to those kinds of attacks. Name-calling is not an argument.”

Or “in this conversation you’ve engaged in name-calling, labeling, and insults. When you did all that, you positioned yourself as kind and right, but when I simply disagree with you, I’m a bigot? How’s that?”

Or just a simple “that kind of social manipulation won’t work. You’ll need to come up with an actual argument” will do.

You can think of your own short responses to add. Write them down and practice them. The point is to make it known what they are trying to do with the rhetoric–shame rather than persuade. Be clear, be short, and be direct. Do not ramble.

Once people see the sleight of hand, it loses its power.

*Lastly, become adept at using questions to maneuver in conversation. Greg Koukl’s Tactics series is a great place to start for this. Some of the above can serve as examples.

Some of the responses above are direct, yes, but consider the possibility that sometimes directness is called for.

In sum, know what to look for, recognize it when it happens, and neutralize the rhetoric.  Planning ahead of time will make it more likely that you and/or your kids will be brave when the moment comes.

These issues – what social shaming looks like and how to respond to it–should be a part of our discipleship of our kids.  There is no way to avoid these sorts of tactics, so they must be addressed directly through teaching in the home and in church.

Don’t miss part one of this article, addressing topics vital to our culture today! Subscribe to the Home Educator Express for free and get important updates and resources like this one sent to your inbox once a month.