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Why Shaming Kids for Their Parents' Mistakes Is Wrong

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SCHOOL LUNCH
Tetra Images - Jamie Grill via Getty Images

By Ana Connery

Two days ago, my son's school required the registration paperwork for the next school year. I missed the deadline. Luckily, so did a lot of other people, and the school administrators kindly accepted my registration packet today.

When I was in high school, my dad had a stroke and fell into a coma for 16 months. When my mom could no longer pay my tuition, administrators told her I could continue to attend classes until she was back on her feet.

In perhaps even more fortunate news, neither mine nor my son's hands were stamped because our parents failed to meet a requirement.

The recent news of a Colorado school stamping the hands of kids whose lunch accounts were either empty or too low to buy lunch is not just ridiculous, it's heartbreaking. These kids will likely never forget the humiliation they felt at having to become walking advertisements to their peers about their parents' misfortunes or mishaps. Adults cannot blame children for their parent's mistakes. If they did, every kid with a parent in jail, addiction problems or heck, outstanding parking tickets, would be held responsible and forced to pay consequences for something they had neither the wherewithal nor maturity to do.

This notion of branding kids physically because of their parents' mistakes takes us back hundreds, if not thousands of years. To publicly and physically brand a human being for something they have no control over is inhumane and reprehensible.

But that's not the only thing wrong with this story.

Forcing kids to go without food or worse, taking it from them and throwing it away -- as happened in one New Jersey school -- is downright immoral. When a hungry child returns to class, he likely is not only swathed in embarrassment, he's also unable to focus and concentrate to the best of his ability, which will become clear in his schoolwork. We all know poor grades lead to a slew of consequences not just for the student, but also for teachers who are held accountable for the performance of students. Are the parents to blame for that, too?

Withholding food is something we don't do to even the worst of criminals locked up in prison, even though they're mature enough to be held responsible for their own actions. Why would anyone think it's OK to do this to kids?

Don't get me wrong; I don't think it's acceptable to forgo making payments to a kid's lunch balance (or anything else) if you truly can pay. We each have our laundry list of personal responsibilities that need to be met both for our good and for the good of society. If everybody thought it was OK to "screw the system," society would become a messy environment filled with citizens who lack both dignity and respect for each other.

But I know that sometimes things fall through the cracks. Paperwork doesn't get filed because we were stuck at work or involved in an accident. Sometimes we're just too tired to do everything we have to do, and something has to give. With so much pressure to work long hours and still make time for homework, dinner, extracurricular activities and perhaps even a little fun, it's not incomprehensible for human beings to fall short of expectations from time to time.

Let's just make sure we don't blame our kids for it. Instead I suggest we show a little compassion and take the matter up with the person or people who can do something about it rather than the innocent kids who have no fault in the matter. It turns out the Colorado school principal had compassion, and it got her fired. In my experience, when you give people the benefit of the doubt, they often surprise you, and even when they don't, you can rest knowing you did your best to maintain everyone's dignity, including your own. Isn't that a much better example for our kids?