Living in a shame-based culture - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 8 Old 06-24-2013, 03:29 AM - Thread Starter
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I'm American, DH is Kenyan, and we are currently living in Uganda. 


One thing I've noticed is that Ugandan culture is very "shame based" in dealing with children and getting them to behave.  Our DD's (4.5yo) preschool doesn't use physical discipline (most schools in Uganda still do) but they use shaming as a way of getting kids to behave. Three examples that I have personally heard the teachers use:


"Your letters are not done well, we are going to send you back to baby class because you are behaving like a baby" - DD always tells me this particular boy is a "baby" and is going to go back to baby class because his writing skills are behind the others.


when I went to pick up DD and some of the 6 year olds were still eating, the teacher called me over and said "Do you see these big girls (about 4 of them)?  they are the biggest in the school and they are still eating their lunch.  Do you believe these girls are taking so long to eat their lunches and moving so slowly?"  This was said in front of the girls - I don't know any of them so she called me over just to embarrass the girls and encourage them to eat faster.


When I went to pick up DD and a young girl was crying, the teacher addressed the whole class, "friends, this girl is crying for her mama.  Do we cry for our mamas in school?"  to which all the kids said "no"


I'm curious if any of you have dealt with a shame based culture, or what your perspective is on the impact on children.  I don't want to isolate my children from the culture, but I'm really uncomfortable with this way of dealing with children.  DD is bright and well behaved so she is not often the object of the shaming; however, the other day she had an accident at school where she wet her pants (which she rarely ever does) and the teacher was quite hard on her.  However, a lot of cultures are shame based and globally this is not an uncommon way of dealing with children, so it makes me wonder if i'm just being too sensitive....what do you think??

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#2 of 8 Old 06-24-2013, 01:03 PM
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my grand parents, Ukrainians, do that a lot. not sure if it is just them or the hole Ukrainian culture.


my approach to culture based things: when it is a negative think that makes me uncomfortable, I avoid it.

there is always other peaople in the same culture who think like you.


I live now on North America. I wasn<t raised here. It makes me uncomfortable the way most kids are treated her ( to be <<independent>> at a ridiculously young age, to be separated from parents to "socialize" at a very young age etc). well, I don<t do it. doesn<t matter that the majority does it and it is part of the north american culture.


I don<t know what exactly to suggest you. But if you feel uncomfortable, you should listen to your gut feelings.

maybe talk to the preschool teacher. maybe talk to DD and explain that even though it is done, it is not OK.

what does your partner think about it?

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#3 of 8 Old 06-24-2013, 01:56 PM
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I would have a really hard time dealing with that. So much so that I might consider homeschooling. Shaming can be just as bad or worse than hitting. I just don't understand why it is seen as okay in so many cultures (including in the US, where parents who shame their kids on Facebook are applauded!!)

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#4 of 8 Old 06-24-2013, 05:36 PM
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I feel for you and your son. I was involved in Kenyas educational system as a Peace Corps volunteer. It was only recently when corporal punishment was banned in schools, and unfortunately the teachers weren't given much in the way of classroom management to replace beating or kneeling on cornmeal for hours, things like that. Teachers have what they were raised with- shaming. Verbal abuse is viewed as non harmful compared to physical abuse, which of course is not true. I taught a workshop on gentle discipline, but you are in the role of parent there so I don't know that you could do something like that.

I would likely be sending my son to an international school if i were in your shoes. Are you in Kampala? If that's not an option, I'd be prepared to do a lot of talking about what he sees at school, to offer your perspective.
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#5 of 8 Old 06-25-2013, 02:41 PM
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I'm more and more convinced that shaming is a terrible way to achieve obedience in a child, which causes a great many problems. So no, I don't think you're being over-sensitive at all. Like a PP said, shaming can be as bad as hitting, or even worse.


As you say though, it seems very common globally. In fact what you've described sounds very similar to the kinds of things I've heard teachers say to kids here in France. A lot of parents use that kind of language here too, although there are certainly exceptions.


Recently there's been a study done here that shows a strong negative correlation between the amount of time that people spend in the French school system and their sense of wellbeing as adults, and one of the reasons suggested for this was that many people's confidence is undermined because of the way they've been treated at French schools.


With my daughter (nearly 5) I try to talk about the things we hear and discuss what might motivate people to talk that that, and then try to come up with about better ways to deal with conflicts. I actually haven't put her in school here so far, partly because of this very problem. She's very sensitive and I suspect that if she hears a lot of this kind of talk, whether directed at her or others, without the 'filter' of having an adult nearby who can help her to process it, it could really disturb her. 

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#6 of 8 Old 06-26-2013, 09:06 AM
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My husband is Indian and his culture is extremely shame based in terms of so many things.  It has not helped him in most ways.  There is something to be said for the strengths it can endow a person with, like the ability to tolerate working with difficult people and keep going against the odds, but over all it has done him in particular more harm than good.  Sure, he is an overachiever and has two masters degrees, but he is never satisfied with himself.


When it comes right down to it, I want my kids to be raised in a way that prepares them for the range of possible environments they might need to be in when they reach adulthood.  THey need to be prepared; it's no utopia in most of the world.  In my husband's case, being raised in a shameful, subservient culture has undermined his confidence in dealing with me on many levels and in how he deals with people at work. He is unable to know himself the way I know myself.


On the other had, having been raised in an environment that fosters much more independence and self esteem, I would never survive living in India.  I would be isolated, unable to deal with or relate to anybody's fear-motivated behaviors and supressed egotism.  It would suck.


In summary, he and I have made a conscious effort to bring a little bit of both methods in to our home.  I am OK with being a lot pushier and less delicate than most AP parents.  It's taking the bad with the good of marrying waaaay outside my culture.  The perceived abuses and shame used in his culture, mind you, are also much less impactful because of the strong AP roles parents tend to take with their kids.  But that is just a generalization.  That level of AP does not serve kids well who live and go to school in the USA.


ETA: I do not permit the intentional act of shaming my son.  For example, during bathing parents in India often say "shame, shame!" t tech the kids to feel uncomfortable naked.  This has been made sternly clear by me with all his family that it will not be tolerated.  I consider it abusive and in no way helpful down the road to shame a child about their bodies!  



ETA:  I think the most abusive things adults do towards kids in in culture is express deep anger towards them.  I see this much more commonly in the USA than I have in other cultures; in India for example you will hear parents say the most terrible things, but it's often surprisingly with little or no anger/hostility and an innocent enough thing.

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#7 of 8 Old 06-28-2013, 01:33 AM
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It seems as though there are different ideas going around about what 'self esteem' is. To me, if a person has healthy self-esteem that implies that they would actually have an easier time with acquiring a thick skin when people say hurtful things to them. Not only that, it might even encourage them to contribute to making the culture less abusive overall by helping to resolve conflicts in healthy ways.


Generally speaking, I think there's quite a bit of evidence that if a person is brought up by loving parents, they are far more likely to become constructive, positive members of a community, whatever culture they happen to be in. To take an extreme example, there's research showing that people who were brought up in loving households in Germany during the period before World War 2 were far more likely to reach out and help Jews and others who were persecuted during the Nazi period. One of the problems with shame is that it tends to paralyse people into thinking that things can't ever change.


I agree that we all need to be able to deal with people saying horrible things to us, but children are tender. They need a 'filter' for harmful stuff, whether it's shaming words or violence experienced through the media, or anything else toxic in their environment. As they get older the need for the filter should lessen, all going well.


As Demeter888 says though, the tone of voice is very important. I also take the point about deep anger.

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#8 of 8 Old 04-20-2014, 09:32 PM
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Wow... probably in America it's the same. But how do you find living in Uganda? News often portrait this place as not so nice...

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