In case you haven’t seen it, take a minute to watch the most recent viral video to take YouTube by storm, Facebook Parenting for the Troubled Teen, in which a dad destroys his kid’s laptop by shooting it full of bullet holes. (Video will open in a new window so when you finish, come back here and let’s discuss!) Finished? Okay, good.
As my colleague Julie noted earlier today, the father at the center of what has become a polarizing parenting controversy, Tommy Jordan, has been flooded with “thousands of comments,” some supportive, but most “blasting either him or his kid.” (Blasting, get it?! Cuz he FILMED HIMSELF FIRING SEVERAL ROUNDS INTO A LAPTOP AND POSTED THE FOOTAGE ON YOUTUBE TO TEACH HIS KID A LESSON ABOUT BEING APPROPRIATE ONLINE?)
You’ll have to forgive me for the virtual shouting there, but this story hits way too close to home for me to react passively to it. Jordan argues on his Facebook page that his daughter “came through it fine,” and that “she’ll grow up happy, healthy, and have everything she needs, but not everything she wants.” That’s a sentiment that has many people cheering Jordan on. “Yay, laptop shooting Dad! You show that little ungrateful brat that she doesn’t run things!” I get it. I’m a single mother; I work extraordinarily hard by my very lonesome to provide everything that my daughter and I enjoy, and I get upset when I feel my efforts aren’t understood by her, that my sacrifices aren’t appreciated. In those moments, I often tell my daughter, “You know, if I behaved the way you’re behaving right now, my mother would have hit me,” or “If my father saw all of these toys disrespectfully strewn all over the floor, he would have thrown them in the fire.”
The difference between me and my authoritarian parents, though, is that I don’t hit my daughter and I haven’t destroyed all of her things. Because, despite their inability to control themselves at times, one thing my parents did effectively teach me is that two wrongs don’t make a right.
More than one commenter on the Strollerderby posts about Jordan’s video has said that Jordan showed immaturity and a lack of control in his reaction to his daughter’s insensitive status update about how awful her parents are. On his Facebook page, Jordan admits “it was an emotional response.” He seems to think shooting the laptop was worth it, though, saying, “I absolutely guarantee she’ll never doubt my resolve to follow-through on a consequence again.” Jordan mentioned more than once in his responses to critics that his daughter is not emotionally scarred by the way she was punished, but I’m not so sure. Based on my own experiences having been raised by volatile parents who liked to go way over the top to prove a point, I feel pretty confident when I say that being met with a violent reaction when you criticize your parents or make a mistake is going to cause resentment, because it makes you feel as if your concerns are invalid.
As a parent, do I see how funny it is that a teenager thinks she’s completely put-upon because she has to do 15 minutes of chores a day? Yes, absolutely. Was it inappropriate for Jordan’s daughter to air her grievances about her parents on Facebook? Of course. Are there better ways of letting her know that than shooting her laptop? Without a doubt. Additionally, I have to wonder if Jordan and his wife have taken the time to listen and talk to their daughter in a way that addresses her concerns while making it clear that she must take care of her share of the responsibilities in the house. I can’t imagine a child being filled with so much resentment toward her parents if she felt respected by them. I don’t dispute the fact that teenagers feel entitled, but handling disrespect with further disrespect is no way to curb hormonally-fueled anger. (Not to mention the fact that Jordan disrespected himself by destroying a computer he’d worked so hard to upgrade and spent so much money on!)
I want to make it clear that I don’t think Jordan is wholly a bad guy, nor do I think his daughter will “grow up to be a stripper” because of this experience. But a recent study by the UNH Department of Psychology proves what others have before it, that “authoritarian parents whose child-rearing style can be summed up as ‘it’s my way or the highway’ are more likely to raise disrespectful, delinquent children who do not see them as legitimate authority figures than authoritative parents who listen to their children and gain their respect and trust.” In other words, shooting bullet holes into a laptop as a disciplinary action is very likely to backfire and create a child who lashes out in response. Jordan seems convinced his daughter understands why he did what he did and that she respects him for it, but I doubt she really feels that way.
We’ve written plenty about the four main parenting styles: authoritarian, authoritative, permissive and neglectful. The UNH research reminds us again that, “Authoritative parents are both demanding and controlling, but they are also warm and receptive to their children’s needs. They are receptive to bidirectional communication in that they explain to their children why they have established rules and also listen to their children’s opinions about those rules. Children of authoritative parents tend to be self-reliant, self-controlled, and content.”
It’s hard for me to put Jordan squarely in either the authoritarian or authoritative camp since I’ve never met the man. Based on his gun-toting video, I’d describe him as the former, but looking at his well-articulated, measured responses on Facebook, I’m more apt to think that Jordan is an authoritative parent who briefly lost control (and is impressively good at controlling his public image). We haven’t heard from his daughter in all of this, and it seems we’re not likely to. But I expect she’s been a little more affected by all of this drama than Jordan is willing to let on – and that the world has probably not seen the last of her “I hate my parents” rants.
Something important to note in all of this is that Jordan is not a “bad dad,” he’s just simply doing what so many children who were raised in abusive environments grow-up to do: using the discipline methods his parents used on him. Jordan told The Toronto Star, “If I did something embarrassing to my parents in public, I got my tail tore up right there in front of God and everyone.” My question to Jordan is, in hindsight, do you feel like that methodology was effective? And if not, why are you repeating the pattern? Being raised by abusive parents turned Jordan into the kind of guy who gets angry and shoots things. What does he think is going to happen to his own daughter?