Taking Aim at Technology Instead of the Problem
What would you do if your teenager posted a note on Facebook essentially calling you a tyrant and saying she’s tired of being your slave? I would be horrified, but since my children were grown before the advent of social media, I really can’t say for sure. One North Carolina dad who faced this situation chose an act of dramatic retaliation that got the attention of more than 28 million people.
Tommy Jordan is an internet technology professional who discovered a profanity-laden note posted on his 16-year-old daughter’s Facebook page, in which she complained about onerous chores like sweeping and making beds. Because it was her second social media offense, he got so mad that he video-taped himself reading her note aloud and ranting about it. He then shot her laptop with hollow-point bullets and said that if she wants another one, she’ll have to buy it herself. Jordan uploaded this video to YouTube and has since become famous, or infamous, (depending on one’s perspective) for his foray into what some would call “extreme parenting.”
The High Calling talked to Laity Leadership Institute senior fellow and child psychiatrist Allan Josephson, M.D. about the video. Josephson said the reason it has gone viral is because it taps into the frustrations many families in our culture feel. The immediacy of social media is a problem, but the underlying one is more fundamental.
“The real issue is what is going on relationally in the family. Kids have always talked about their parents to their peers. The fact that they do it more quickly or more directly with social media shouldn’t obscure the basic issues,” said Josephson.
He said the teenager does not appear to be abused or deprived. This is obvious in that Jordan begins his rant by noting that he had spent six hours fixing his daughter’s laptop computer the previous day and had added $130 worth of new software to it.
“Our culture gives to children without expecting much in return. Parents create the context for problems when they don’t hold children accountable and expect something from them. You cannot raise healthy children without that kind of balance,” he said.
In the absence of accountability and responsibility, children develop a sense of entitlement and don’t know when to stop with their demands, Josephson said. “There’s no appreciation or respect. Facebook is a vehicle. It mushrooms then, but the basic issue is one of the child talking back to her parents regarding their expectations regarding age-appropriate responsibilities. Parents then get enraged, because something has to give.”
Anger is appropriate, Josephson said, but parents need to recognize their own role in creating a problem like this in the first place. They need to control their anger and understand that years of indulging can’t be corrected with one dramatic stunt.
“We used to have a culture where there was a general consensus about what parents should and shouldn’t do and what kids should and shouldn’t do,” Josephson said. “That is not true anymore. So the strength that we got from other people sharing consensus is gone. This is why things like a faith community are so important. Perfectly normal people cannot stem the tide, but together we may be able to effect cultural change.”
On his own Facebook wall, Jordon later posted a long note about his actions, in which he said he is “NOT a hero,” but a “normal guy with a reasonable moral compass” who “makes a LOT of mistakes.” He expressed regret for smoking on camera, for not wearing his best cowboy hat, and for using a slang term for derriere in a comment directed at his daughter. He offered no other apology, even though Child Protective Services made a visit to his home as a result of the video posting.
The anger and sarcasm Jordan exhibit are a problem that impairs his message, Josephson said, but there is a core of truth in the idea that children in our culture are “ill-prepared, protected, and not producing the way the rest of the world is producing.”
“The immediacy of social media damages our reflective process, which is crucial for relationships,” he added. “The question to be asked is: does this parental behavior help this father’s relationship with his daughter?”
Although Jordan claims the stunt has not done permanent damage, Josephson said father and daughter both violated a sensitive and sacred trust by making a private family matter public.
“Obviously the theatrics of it was a function of Jordan’s anger. His own immaturity showed through. He’s the parent here. She’s sixteen. These are not peers,” he said.
What would you do if your teenager posted an angry message about you on a social media site?