From lame dad jokes to awkward mom hugs, parents have nearly inexhaustible means to embarrass their children in front of their friends. But when I was a young teenager my mother had a surefire way to fill me with shame and dread: ask me to buy groceries using food stamps.
In the early 1980s—an era before EBT (electronic benefits transfer) cards could be disguised as a debit card—food stamps took the form of easily recognized slips of colored paper. In my small town grocery store, it was all but impossible to pay for groceries without several people from my school seeing me using food stamps and discovering my family was “on welfare.” Rather than submit to that shame, I’d have preferred to go hungry.
It’s easy to dismiss such adolescent concerns, especially for adults who have never endured the awkwardness of being a kid in poverty. But for many young people from poor families, the lack of resources is a constant source of embarrassment and stress.