Inside the Trend of Parent Shaming

Celebrities and everyday parents alike face criticism.

ByABC News
April 14, 2016, 7:41 AM

— -- Ryan Reynolds has been publicly criticized for how he wore a baby carrier to hold his daughter. Alicia Silverstone was condemned for posting a video of herself feeding her son pre-chewed baby food. David Beckham was called out for allowing his 4-year-old daughter to use a pacifier.

These experiences of in-the-spotlight parents are all examples of a growing trend faced by many non-celebrity parents too: parent shaming.

Sometimes the shaming is confined to the internet – but increasingly, people are picking up the phone to alert authorities to what they consider potential bad parenting.

Connecticut mom Patty Levreault says she was traumatized by a call from a stranger to authorities about the safety of her children.

Levreault told ABC News she was still in her pajamas when she opted not to respond to a delivery man's doorbell ring.

"I was just like, okay, well, I'm going to see if he leaves his package on the porch," Levreault said. "I went to the bathroom and five minutes later, three cop cars showed up."

Levreault says her children had been quietly watching television at the time but the delivery man jumped to the conclusion, according to Levreault, that the children were in danger and called police.

"I was mortified," said Levreault.

Parents magazine editor-in-chief Dana Points told ABC News her staff is hearing more and more accounts of moms being maligned for doing things that were once commonplace.

"People are shamed today for letting their child play in front of their house in an unfenced yard and letting a child walk to school alone," Points told ABC News.

Data shows the overwhelming majority of calls about abuse placed to Child Protective Services (CPS) are without merit. Calls to report possible cases of child abuse are up to 3.5 million per year, an increase of nearly 12 percent since 2009, but the cases of actual abuse are down four percent, to 679,000, according to CPS data.

Parent shaming extends beyond calls placed to authorities to criticisms posted online. Social media groups routinely criticize fellow parents for everything from buying their children fast food to allowing them to use iPads and cellphones.

Dr. Christine Carter, a sociologist at the University of California-Berkeley, says some good can come out of society being increasingly aware of the actions of parents.

"Clearly if a child is in immediate danger or is being openly abused, you can't let that go," Carter told ABC News.

But, she warns, more often than not, a society's tendency to shame a parent comes from a darker place.

“Usually when we do something which intends to shame someone and can't possibly help them learn anything, it's really just an attempt to make ourselves feel better,” Carter said.