Obviously (to most), there’s a now-viral video making its way around the internet. In the video, Dad reads a letter that his daughter wrote (talking about how hard she works and how bad her parents are) and posts it to her Facebook page. In retaliation, he reads this letter, chews her out, then uses a .45 to shoot several holes in her laptop. You can watch it below, but be aware there is quite a bit of strong language (which I don’t condone, but there it is):
My very first reaction to this was, “Good for him. He’s taking a stand and showing her she can’t get away with it. Kids need more discipline.” This is the biggest reaction I’ve seen on comment threads all over the place — most people think the girl (who is never seen and never speaks for herself, other than her initial letter) is a spoiled brat, and they side with the dad.
The more I watched, and the more I thought, though, the more disturbed I was by the whole thing. Disturbed enough to post on it, something I don’t usually do.
Please be aware, through this post, that I’m not intending to criticize this family. Their family dynamics are their business, and his Facebook page shows that after this video went crazy, he and his daughter sat down and watched it together and had a long, private talk about the whole thing. I think they are handling the aftermath just fine. Not to mention that I’m not part of the situation.
Rather, this is intended to speak to everyone who thinks that the dad’s actions were in some way heroic and that getting tough with children in this way is the most appropriate way to handle such problems. It was the commenters that ultimately disturbed me more than the original situation itself (although both did).
The Video: What Wasn’t Told
The video’s fairly straightforward: girl disrespects family publicly, father gets her back by responding publicly and shooting the laptop she used to disrespect him in the first place. But it left me with so many additional thoughts and questions:
- What is going on in this parent-child relationship that she felt so angry and unappreciated in the first place?
- The father seems to need to be “right.” Her feelings that drove her to this are unimportant; all that matters is that she was rude.
- Two wrongs somehow make a right.
- The father-daughter relationship contains two people…and it’s quite adversarial.
- Destroying the laptop was a temper tantrum that made the father feel better.
- The daughter was just recently grounded for three months for doing something similar, but clearly “it didn’t work” since she did it again (i.e. the grounding didn’t actually solve any problems….)
That first point is what was going through my head the whole time. Several people have said, “This doesn’t reflect on them; she’s a teen and she’ll do as she pleases.” I’m sorry, but her letter wasn’t about some independently poor choice she made, like taking drugs. It was about the parent-child relationship and how angry she is with her parents. That makes it about the parents. She hates the relationship they have, clearly, which obviously reflects on them.
The fact that grounding her for three months and removing all her privileges “didn’t work” leads people to believe that she needs more punishment, to “get it through her head.” Hasn’t anyone heard that the definition of ‘insanity’ is “doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result?” Punishing her further is only going to make her angrier and drive her away. It is human nature to be angry and fight back, not to be submissive and respond to this sort of bullying with “Oh, I see my mistake now, sure, I’ll turn it all around.”
How would people have felt if, say, a wife had posted a nasty letter about her husband on Facebook, and his response had been to read it, chew her out, and take her laptop and shoot it? I don’t think people would have been very supportive of the husband, and I can imagine the comments would have been along the lines of “this belongs in a marriage counselor’s office, as this relationship is clearly in trouble.” But it’s just fine for a parent-child relationship?
We don’t have any idea what this girl is really like. All we know is one letter she wrote in anger and posted in public. Have none of the rest of us ever done something like this? We don’t know what she is like day-to-day. We don’t know if she is grateful or ungrateful or if she works hard or doesn’t. She never got a chance to speak for herself, outside of this one unfortunate letter. Yet we judge her, harshly. (No — the letter wasn’t excusable and definitely did require a reaction. But there’s just so much more to this story than we actually know.)
The Underlying Lesson
The underlying lesson I get from all of this — the video, the people commenting on it, and even messages I got that line up with this at random times — is that parents are always right, and children ought to fall in line. A parent is right because he or she says so, ultimately. Isn’t “because I said so” really “Because that’s how I feel right now and I do/don’t want to do this?” It’s about a parent’s feelings and whims rather than what may be “best” in the situation. I say it too — because I’m human. Does that make it right, though?
Parents are not always right. And I’m so tired of this adversarial relationship that the entire world has with children. We do not teach someone respect by “beating it into them.” We teach it by modeling. It is possible to train children and have expectations for them without lashing out in anger and shaming them, or stooping to their level. If my 4-year-old snaps at me or throws a fit, should I snap back or throw a fit too? Would the proper reaction be to stand in the middle of the room and scream, “I don’t like this and you had better stop it right now! I’m the mom and I said NO! Now you stop it right now because you are making me so angry I can’t stand it! SHUT UP!” …I don’t think anyone thinks that’s ideal. At least I hope not, because it’s not particularly mature.
Everyone thinks that children are so bad these days. And I don’t. You know what? I think it’s the parents who are bad. I think the parents are lazy, and they are rude. I think they expect children to cater to them. I think they expect children not to have feelings and needs, but to simply behave. I think they are easily frustrated by their children. I think they medicate behavior that doesn’t fit their ideal. And I think they can see immaturity and fault easily in their children, but not in themselves.
You may be the problem if:
- …your children are behaving wildly and your immediate thought/reaction is “Why can’t they ever just stop?! They love to make me miserable.”
- …your children are whiny and you say, “Stop that already! I don’t want to hear it.”
- …your children are acting out and you can’t think of enough punishments to stop the behavior.
- …your child is often sassy to you, and you respond by yelling ‘sassy’ things back and punishing.
- …your child hits you and you immediately smack him back.
- …your child throws something at you, so you throw something back.
- …your child has an accident (bathroom, spilling something, whatever) and you spend 10 minutes berating the child to be more careful.
- …your child does something wrong, and you bring it up frequently and use it to shame the child into “being good.”
- …your child behaves badly in a store (even though you did not expressly lay out expectations) and you respond by punishing because “they should have known.”
Yes, we all do these things sometimes. We are human and we can’t get away from that. We will have a bad day, be in a bad mood, say and do things we shouldn’t. What matters is that we recognize that these are not the most appropriate responses and strive to do a better job next time. The problem lies when a parent thinks that these are appropriate responses and intends to parent this way.
Instead, in the above situations, parents should strive to:
- …realize the children have pent-up physical energy, and provide them with a more appropriate outlet (and explain this to them and expect them to wait until they can get to the more appropriate location, if they are old enough)
- …realize the children may be tired, hungry, ill, and look to solve the underlying cause.
- …realize the children are desperate for your attention or having some physical/mental issue and look to solve the underlying problem.
- …realize your child is only speaking to you the same way you speak to him/her.
- …realize your child can’t possibly take you seriously when you just did the thing you said not to do.
- …realize that accidents happen — to us, too — and don’t require any punishment, just a simple “please clean up.”
- …realize that shaming people makes them angry and hurt and does not create a positive behavior change. (If an adult did this to another adult — husband/wife, boss/employee — we would call this “verbal abuse.”)
- …realize that unless your child is psychic, no, they do not know your expectations unless you told them. And even then, young children have little self-control.
It’s our goal as parents to treat our children respectfully (not to be their friend, but to speak to them gently). It’s our goal to train them in love. It’s our job to meet their needs, even if it inconvenient for us to do so. It’s our job to always look at their underlying behavior and help them when they are crying out for it.
I just cannot get behind the idea that we ought to “make” children fall in line, and that if we need to be extreme to do it, that’s okay. Somehow, it’s entirely inappropriate for a child to “act out” to get a parent’s attention; but it is okay for us to act out to get our child’s attention? I am not okay with that double standard at all. It’s fine to be harsh on a child…but not for a child to be rude to a parent.
Families have to live together. And they have to deal with a wide variety of attitudes, thoughts, feelings, moods, and other things that may or may not mesh. Children have as much right to their own thoughts, feelings, and bad days as the rest of us do. We set firm, reasonable guidelines for them and we do so because it is in their best interests. But we don’t need to legislate or punish their feelings!
As an example, it is perfectly okay for a child to say, “I’m mad! That makes me so angry when you do that!” The child has a right to feel that way and express his anger in this manner. The child does not, however, have the right to follow that up by smacking you or another person, and doing so would require redirection to hit a pillow or go to a safe space until the temper is calm. (I’m trying to get the point across that allowing a child to feel what he feels and be respectful does not mean that you are not parenting him. You are. You still make the rules and you still expect the child to follow them. You simply allow space for the child to express his feelings and preferences along the way, and you don’t punish as a means to get obedience. Discipline, yes; punish, no.)
Watching that video and seeing the reaction really shook me, because I don’t ever want to find myself in that position. I don’t want to get to the teen years and realize that my children feel so angry with me and the way that I treat them that they write a nasty, angry letter about it and post it to the internet for everyone but me to see. I’d be hurt that my child didn’t come to me first and share his or her feelings, so that we could work on it together. I’d be embarrassed that I had been such a poor parent that my child felt overworked and abused.
And no, I don’t think she was necessarily overworked — I don’t know. I believe in hard work and we teach our children that it’s not okay to be lazy. I will call out lazy behavior when I see it — but I don’t tell the kids that they are lazy, I tell them a particular behavior or attitude is lazy. I stay after them to clean up their bedrooms and their playroom, multiple times a day if we need to. I talk to them about being respectful and caring for their things. I let them earn money for doing chores (which will change as they age to “extra” chores). I don’t buy them everything they want, and when they break things, I don’t replace them. Breaking things comes with the consequence that you no longer have that thing. I’m saying all this so that no one thinks that I believe the girl ought to get away with this, or have the right to own all of the things she wants at her parents’ expense. It doesn’t work that way, either.
Everyone feels a sense of entitlement. Don’t we, as adults, feel entitled to have nice things? Once my son threw my (expensive, new-to-me, DSLR) camera down the stairs. I freaked out. I felt entitled to have that nice camera and not to have it broken. But, I’d left it on a table he could easily reach, so wasn’t that really my fault? He is only 2. And yes, even though I bought it with my own money, that I had earned by working…I still left that camera where he could reach it. I didn’t treat it perfectly just because I had earned it. The idea that children will learn the value of hard work and care for an item perfectly because they paid for it is simply false. We make mistakes — we don’t think. My camera was on a low table, but it was in my bedroom. I didn’t think my kids would go in there. But, as they were getting a toy from their bedrooms, they saw the camera in my room and grabbed it, which I knew was a remote possibility when I left my door open. I wasn’t reckless, but I didn’t care for it “perfectly,” either.
My kids often say that if they lose or break things, we’ll just buy another one, or someone will fix it for them. We have never done things this way. We have taken things away when they have treated them disrespectfully, we have refused to replace items they have broken. I don’t think we have even once repaired or replaced something that was destroyed willfully. They still think this way.
Because we all do.
When my son got into my bag of groceries once and spilled my cocoa powder everywhere, I felt angry that he had wasted it and made such a mess, and I felt like I was entitled to it, and someone ought to replace it for me. That someone “owed” me because it was mine, and someone other than myself had ruined it. I know it doesn’t work that way. But I still felt it. I think children feel the same way too.
The only way to stop “entitlement” is to slowly, patiently teach them that we must work for what we have, and to be an example of that. When it is our fault, directly or indirectly, that something was ruined, we take responsibility for it. But we don’t.
What happens if you’re in the kitchen and your child is talking to you a lot, and you lose your concentration and spill something? Do you blame the child for distracting you? …I bet, at least your head, you do. It’s human nature not to want to accept the blame for things.
Our biggest problem is that we see the worst case scenarios on TV all the time: the children whose parents really did give in to their every whim as they were growing up, who truly are “spoiled” and simply do expect everything to be given to them, without regard for cost or need. I do not believe most children are like this. I believe most simply wish it were possible to have everything, yet understand it does not really work this way.
A Middle Ground
I believe a better reaction to her letter would have been to remove her Facebook account and her laptop privileges, then talk to her about what’s going on. Listen to her and find out why she felt overworked and disrespected, and possibly come up with a plan to help her feel better about the chores she has to do. If she is really pouring their coffee everyday, they ought to thank her each time she hands them a cup. Little things like this. As the parent, I may have chosen to write my own, private letter explaining how her initial letter made me feel, so that she could read each word and realize the hurt she had caused.
And then I would have asked for a written apology letter, and posted that to Facebook for the world to see. It would have accomplished the same goal — to show that the girl would not “get away with it” — without throwing a temper tantrum. Not to mention that the conversation and the act of writing the letter would show her just how disrespectful she’d been, and give her a chance to honestly apologize for it. Her behavior needed to be addressed, there’s no denying that.
If she did this to a boss, she’d get fired. But her boss would not publicly humiliate her, and if he did, she’d be able to sue. That’s not how the world works.
Yes…you can tell by the length of this post that I have a lot to say about it. It really struck a chord in me because I am still struggling to treat my children in a more positive manner, and I could see myself ending up in that position in 10 or 15 years if I don’t get a handle on my temper and my attitude right now. It was a wake-up call to me that I don’t want to be that parent.
Ultimately it’s up to everyone how to parent their own child. But please do so thoughtfully. Choose something because you believe it to be right, and not because you are angry and reacting to how parenting or a child makes you feel. Love the disrespect out of the child. I’ll let you know how it went in about 14 years. 🙂
What do you think about this whole situation?
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