When Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Did you happen to see the video of the frustrated father who lashed out at his daughter’s obsession with Facebook by shooting her computer with his .45? The last time I checked, the video had received more than 32 million views on YouTube. It went viral almost the minute he posted it back in February. I saw it just hours later and remember viewing it in disbelief. 

Here was a seemingly calm, rational parent who’d clearly hit the wall. He had a written statement that he read for the camera as he sat in his backyard. He talked about how unhappy he was with his 15-year-old daughter’s behavior. She had posted a typical teenage rant on her Facebook page, likely meant only for her friends, but addressed it to her parents. In the obscenity-laced letter, she complained about having to do household chores, about not getting paid for the work she did (read: mopping the kitchen floor, making her bed, and wiping down countertops), and generally, bemoaned how tough her life was. While none of this probably comes as a great surprise to anyone with a teenager, what happened next did. 

He discovered her post after upgrading her computer and was so angered by her sense of entitlement that he decided to unplug her permanently from her online world. He told her she was grounded and barred from the Internet. Evidently, they had discussed how important it was to think about what you said and did online, because once it went live it was there for all the world to see. He was clearly disappointed with her disrespectful, self-centered behavior, particularly since she had disregarded his warnings. So he registered his displeasure by writing his commentary and then shooting her computer with his handgun. Not once, but eight or nine times, mind you. Then he posted his response on his FB feed, in a tit-for-tat sort of retaliation.

I couldn’t fathom how he thought humiliating his daughter in this fashion would do anything to help repair what appeared to be a significant rift between them. Here was a father who clearly cared for his daughter yet felt powerless to do anything but strangle the beast. 

What interested me was his story is not unlike many of ours. And the conversation his video sparked has resonated with parents across the country because many of us are fighting similar battles. With kids we feel we’ve overindulged, who don’t do enough around the house, who spend way too many hours online. I think many parents feel powerless in the face of technology today. We give our kids these expensive tools and then get angry when they show no sense of self-restraint. We’re often at a loss as to how to monitor or rein in their consumption. But in truth, how much do we rein it in for ourselves? And what steps do we take to teach our kids balance?

Many parents understood where this father was coming from, though. In an interview the family did a month later on the Today Show, Tommy Jordan said he’d received more than 20,000 emails from people around the world, largely commiserating with him, though some chastising the way he chose to manage his dilemma. 

I like you a lot, commented Matt Lauer, but didn’t you bring the argument down to your daughter’s level by posting this online? I thought the very same thing. His daughter remained fairly tight-lipped during the interview. And in truth, she didn’t look at all like an out-of-control teenager. I suspect the whole incident brought about a lot of discussion at their home, and hopefully, united them more as a family. But it seemed to me his daughter was behaving the way teenagers often do: rebellious, self-centered. Her behavior, while not right, was normal. 

Did she overstep the boundaries by making her remarks public and embarrassing her parents? Yes. Is that acceptable behavior? No. But what about his response, what sort of message does it send his daughter? I get his frustration. But as parents, we’re called to be leaders of our families. If we want our kids to make good decisions, we’ve got to model that kind of behavior as well. Kids make stupid choices because they can’t always think through the consequences of their behavior. Adults, on the other hand, should know how to anticipate the impact of their actions. Dad didn’t like his daughter going online with her complaints. But his reaction brought far more attention than her rant ever would have. That’s food for thought.

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