To this very day, I remember every little detail. We’d been to the movies, a unique event for my family since my parents were pretty strict on what we could watch. We were walking back and my sister and my dad were talking about his Amsterdam accent.
I grew up in the east of The Netherlands and my dad is from Amsterdam, which has by Dutch standards a pretty strong accent. I was maybe 10 or 11 and I said I could do his accent. He didn’t believe me, so I gave it my best shot. And tanked it.
I remember my dad and my sister laughing so hard while I was in tears. They didn’t mean to make fun of me perhaps, but that’s exactly what happened. There are few moments in my life where I have felt more humiliated as right then and there.
They didn’t mean to, but they humiliated me deeply and I’ve never forgotten it. It was over something stupid and I doubt they even remember it. But I do.
Humiliation is one of the strongest negative emotions a teen can have. It can trigger a whole cycle of negative emotions and feelings, right up to depression. It’s also an emotion that is relatively easy to provoke.
An example that comes to mind is that I was once in a church service where they had a group of 12 year old teens sing a song for the entire church. Had, as in obligatory. Can you imagine the horror for a 12-year-old boy, singing a song with 700 people watching? It’s a proven recipe for humiliation.
Making fun of a wrong answer, laughing at an ill timed mistake, putting a teen on the spot, it can happen without even realizing it. That’s why we should take great care to prevent it. Teens are vulnerable and we need to protect them.
Laughing with each other is fine, laughing at someone isn’t
Everyone being an idiot is fine, but singling out one teen to make an idiot of himself isn’t
Asking a teen to stand out is fine, making them stand out isn’t
And when it happens, when a teen is accidently humiliated and you see it happen, humiliate yourself right next to the teen. Share the spotlight, make a fool of yourself, be willing to sacrifice whatever dignity you have left to share in the shame and humiliation. Believe me, it helps.
(Stay tuned for more posts in a series on the strongest positive and negative teen emotions and what this means for youth ministry)