Unwise Facebook Parenting for the Troubled Teen

This video, apparently made by angry father Tommy Jordan, has “gone viral” and had more than a million views in under 72 hours, with a torrent of commentary. Most of the commentary seems to express either enthusiastic support or simple shock. I suspect it will get a few million more hits before it dies down or the father pulls it down.

I am assuming this is real and not a staged prank. Assuming it’s real, I am sympathetic with Mr. Jordan.

Unlike some, I am not fazed at the use of a gun. Not only am I one of those who believes the right to keep and bear arms is sacred, but it would have been more disturbing had he used a hammer or run over the laptop with a car. The gun is a distraction at most, although I certainly hope Mr. Jordan has taught his children proper use and respect for that fine firearm of his.

Nevertheless, however justified Mr. Jordan’s anger may be, if he’s wise he will take down this video and apologize–yes, apologize–to his daughter.

I suppose he may get angry at that suggestion, and I’m sure some of you reading this will also be angry. Certainly a lot of people, including some teenagers, are cheering this whole thing. But when tempers cool, here are some things to contemplate:

1) This teaches your child that destruction of valuable property is an appropriate way to express anger.

2) It also teaches your child that if you’re angry, you should retaliate–and retaliate not just in a moment of unthinking anger, but in a cold, calculating, planned manner.

3) The level of public attention this has received now vastly exceeds the level of the offense. Mr. Jordan almost certainly did not intend that, but that has been the result, raising this from teenage misbehavior to International Incident. (I know that was not the intent, but it’s what happened. Whoops.)

4) Teenagers can be selfish and lazy and bratty, but Mr. Jordan may wish to contemplate that there are millions of rebellious teens who do things like get pregnant, use drugs, get involved in crime, run away from home, even wind up in jail or commit suicide. None of those are funny, all of them are real, and they happen to parents of every race, religion, income level, and every part of the country (and world).

Mister Jordan spends much time berating his daughter for how good she has it. In this, he is right. But he may also want to thank God that his problems with his daughter amount to no more than whining about chores, some foul language, and complaining about what awful parents she has. Your girl could be strung out on drugs, pregnant, or in jail Mr. Jordan–maybe all three. Or just dead. And if you think I’m joking, give me a call and I’ll introduce you to some people I know who have had those very things happen to them. You and that girl’s mom need to get some perspective here, because you could have things a lot worse too, and I doubt you’d trade a whole warehouse full of laptops for that little girl.

Now here’s the funny thing: I might have done something very similar to this. I don’t think publicly embarrassing a teenager who’s done something like this is beyond the pale. But as a parent you need to be a little more creative. If my teenager had done something like this, and I was going to post a YouTube video like this, here’s what I would do:

1) Everything you said about how hard you had to work when you were a kid? Good. I’d say that. I left home at 15 and had my first job before that myself. Go ahead and say those things. But you don’t call the kid names or call her lazy. You just make the point of how easy she has it by comparison, and how hurtful it is to have her take that for granted.

2) All that stuff about the “cleaning lady?” I’d say every word of that the same, but I’d also add some extra: she gets to spend the next few weekends at the “cleaning lady’s” house helping her fix up her house. Try doing some cooking and cleaning and even some yard work for that “cleaning lady” and maybe she’ll learn a little more respect for people who are having hard times, and that you don’t treat that with contempt.

3) The laptop? I’d show myself on camera carefully putting it in a box, taking it to the post office, and mailing it to these people, or some other charity. Then I’d tell her if she wants another laptop, she can have it when she buys it for herself.

That would have been funny, it would have embarrassed her without frightening or humiliating her, and it would have illustrated the difference between a temper tantrum and reasonable consequences for bad behavior.

Seriously Mr. Jordan: I would go to your daughter, hug her, explain to her that what she did was wrong but that what you did was not the right way to respond to it. You should not be afraid to tell your child when you’re in the wrong. Then, I would work on a better relationship. Most definitely, I would keep in mind that kids may be selfish and unappreciative, but that’s a pretty normal thing: just about every parent of a teenager puts up with that. But you probably want to be more creative and thoughtful in your responses to it in the future.

(This item cross-posted to The Moderate Voice.)