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Lunch Shaming Is Real, And It's Horrible For Kids Who Need Help

So what happens to kids who don’t have the $2.68 or a similar amount for the hot lunch at school? What happens next depends on the state, but owing money on cafeteria accounts often results in some kind of public shaming. Some children are even made to clean cafeteria tables or floors to pay off their lunch debts. In one extreme case, an idiot school in Alabama actually brands students with an “I need lunch money” stamp on their arms. In a few cases, students are even being denied lunch.

According to experts, “lunch shaming” has been used in schools for decades. New Mexico Senator Michael Padilla knows about the humiliation personally as he used to have to mop the cafeteria so that workers at the school would pay off his parents’ balance.

Padilla just led the charge to pass a new bill that outlaws lunch shaming in New Mexico public schools. The bill is a first, and it's a major step in reducing the stigma kids face about money in schools.

Close to 31 million U.S. children receive a free or reduced-price lunch today. Experts say many more than that are eligible for discounts but choose not to take advantage because of the stigma involved. Many children whose families qualify for reduced-price lunch would rather skip the meal than have their friends know about their low-income status.

According to psychotherapist Hilary Jacobs Hendel, when you are singled out for a difference it creates a cycle of “toxic shame.” Kids are very sensitive to being different, she explains, so “if lunch is associated with the shame of being different, they will avoid the difference” even if it means going hungry.

Hendel also highlights that “the consequences of being shamed as children can be exacerbated in adulthood.” She says that some children turn it on themselves and experience chronic fear, depression, and low self-esteem, or other kids turn into bullies."

“The younger you are, the more prone you are to mental health problems,” Hendel points out. “The brain makes associations. If a kid was made to feel bad for being poor, there's a good chance that they'll forever feel bad about being poor.”

The good news is that New Mexico’s new law establishes an important precedent for the rest of the country, and will help to reduce the financial stigmatization of children. It should just be a matter of time until states across the country decide to follow suit.

Source: GOOD
Photo: TECHNOprah/Instagram

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