Dita De Boni 's Opinion

Business columnist, with a political twist, for NZ Herald

Revisiting shame

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The airwaves, TV channels and print columns devoted to Jan Molenaar speak volumes to how much misery a single unhappy individual can inflict on fellow human beings when things go wrong.

I listened briefly to Jan's mother on Close Up the other night, and the experience put me in mind of so many parents of errant offspring who front up to the media and put bad behaviour into some kind of context.

Leaving aside Mrs Molenaar, who has enough to deal with right now, I still couldn't help thinking of a disturbing trend of parents refusing to take any responsibility for their child's actions. (I stress, I'm not talking about the Molenaar case specifically.) It's a trend evident in classrooms, where parents refuse to believe their children are at fault for anything.

There are students who have problems in every classroom, in every year and with every teacher they encounter, and yet parents who are unwilling to look at the common denominator in every situation - their own offspring - and work to fix the problem at their own end.

Instead, they badger and bully the principal and school management to try and force their square pegs into round holes.

In fact, the problem starts before school. Kids who bully or shove or act badly in preschool, kindy or playgroup - and the parents who laugh it off.

Or pull their kids out of several schools believing them to be victimised.

We see this kind of thing in the media all the time, where parents claim their child was "a really good boy" or he "loved his mum" and was therefore the victim of unfortunate circumstances.

Child hooked on P? Blame her friends and associates. Horror road smash from excessive speed? Well, he loved driving fast cars. Anti-social personality? Nothing to do with me!!!

Where has the concept of a little bit of shame gone? Not that you should top yourself or lock yourself away if your offspring has done badly wrong, but how about feeling too embarrassed to front up to the media spouting defences of the indefensible?

How about a simple "I'm sorry that things went wrong with my daughter/son - I'm sorry about the misery she/he's caused"?

Please don't think for a moment that I believe my children will never get into trouble.

They may do, but I hope I have the foresight and resilience to ensure they - and I - take responsibility for their actions.

If teachers call me in to talk about my brood, I will probably subtly investigate the possibility that the teacher is at fault, but if it happens more than once, it will be a different story.

My father once told me, "Don't think I will ever believe you over the teacher."

What it taught me was to never go home whining about punishments I sustained at school, because all it would do would be to set off another round of punishments at home.

To this day I would feel as though I had let down my family to do anything too far beyond the pale - and this was precisely the kind of feeling they worked hard to instill. I'm not saying I'm lily white, but I certainly kept my indiscretions to myself. I hope my children do the same.

People probably think shame is a Victorian term. Well, it probably is. But there's a reason why it worked so well as a social glue for so long - it's powerful.

Now, with a brave new world in which seriously bad behaviour is excused, justified, and even glorified by some - even parents, who should be acting as some sort of moral compass - shame has lost its hold on people.

Well and good for the victimless crimes of which many of us indulge in on a regular basis, not so good when bad, anti-social behaviour left unchecked becomes a serious problem for so many others.

- Dita De Boni

Pictured above: The teens in 1985's 'The Breakfast Club' paid for their errant behaviour with a stint in detention. Photo / Supplied

Dita De Boni

Business columnist, with a political twist, for NZ Herald

Dita De Boni is a columnist, commentator and TV producer/journalist. She first wrote columns for the NZ Herald in 1995, moving to daily business news in 1999 for four years, and then to TVNZ in Business, News and Current Affairs. After tiring of the parenting/blogging beat for the Herald Online she moved back to her first love, business (with a politics chaser), writing a column for Friday Business since 2012.

Read more by Dita De Boni

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