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When Kids And Parents Clash

(First published on Urban Times on 18th May 2012)

Kids have an uncanny way of getting under their parents’ skin. They can be annoying if they want to, if not infuriating.

But so can parents. All these rules and regulations and instructions on how to behave and get in line and learn some manners and grow up to be respected in the world can rile up a kid in no time, leading to intense showdowns.

I came across an article in the HuffPost the other day that showed exactly how upset kids can get if their privileges are taken away. The star of the story was a disgruntled young daughter who wrote a terse note to her parents, warning them not to add a password to the computer. It made me smile. (For the original Reddit post click here, and for the HuffPost article click here.)

Apparently this was not an isolated event. The article mentioned similar incidents in other families, stuff that caught the public eye. There was a boy who wrote a warning letter to his mom’s about her alarm clock. It was written in a slightly more dramatic and controversial tone. (For the HuffPost article click here.)

I have to admit I laughed out loud with that one. I was not overly worried as much as amused at the boy’s attempt to sound severe. This was not not a psychopathic child. A psychopathic child wouldn’t write about doing all these things. He would simply do them.

Moving on, there was one more incident to check out. It involved a riled up parent, Tommy Jordan, who apparently shot the laptop that belonged to his 15-year-old daughter in response to her posting a rant about him on Facebook. ‘That sounds a bit harsh,’ I thought to myself. Whatever happened to grounding the child? How about adding parental controls on her device, or just taking it away from her for a while?

Then I remembered the previous notes and grinned.

Here’s the video clip:

The irate father and his daughter, Hannah, eventually went on TV and gave an account of the whole incident. They appeared shaken by the scrutiny placed on them and showed a friendly face to the cameras to convince everyone that everything was OK, water under the bridge etc, in an effort to get the public eye off them for good.

They should have thought of that earlier, though, shouldn’t they? Why the shock at the pressure placed on them by the public and the media? Add your posts on the web for the entire world to see, you have the world to contend with.

This brings us to Hannah’s post. She had blocked her parents from seeing what she wrote, allowing everyone else free access to it. As it happens, her dad found out about it, insinuating that his IT skills had something to do with it. Did he breach his daughter’s privacy? Yes, he did. Did he have a right to, as a parent? Maybe, that’s a tough one to call. Did he have the right to be angry at her for badmouthing and berating him in public? He certainly did. Did he need to shoot the laptop? No, he didn’t. But he did make an impression by doing it. It got him thirty million hits on Youtube.

Who’s in the right, then? Frankly, I don’t know and don’t care. I don’t have all the facts straight, I don’t live in that house, I don’t know what’s going on there, who’s out of control, who riles up who, who brought on what. All I can say is that Tommy Jordan reacted over the top. But I’m not flabbergasted by his actions. I don’t want to ban guns because of it. I don’t want to lock him up because of it. I’m not afraid for his daughter’s life. Again, if he were a violent psychopath, he would have probably shot his daughter, not her laptop.

The same goes for Hannah and her comments. I don’t think she’s a horrible daughter. Lazy and spoiled, maybe, but not a nightmare. Not an abomination. Not deserving having her possessions executed with a firearm. She’s just a child that had things too easy, and who needs to be instructed back to a more active and involved way of dealing with things.

Here’s the interesting part. When the incident went viral, loads of people came in Tommy Jordan’s support. They thought his reaction was appropriate.

This sparked more debate, drawing TV talk show host and psychologist Dr. Phil in the argument.

Here’s what he had to say about it:

“Never humiliate you child publicly,” he emphasized. “You’re supposed to be the adult.” But Dr. Phil’s negative view of the situation did not seem to resonate with people’s opinions. So he toned it down at the end of the interview, “keeping things in perspective” and downplaying the incident as a huge error in tactics on the dad’s behalf.  “Where do you go now?” he asked, wondering what the next step would be if Hannah broke the rules again. “Blow up the car?”

But Dr. Phil didn’t have the last word. The fact that he makes his money by bringing people’s problems to the public eye, which often involves hard and humiliating procedure, did not go unnoticed. Tommy Jordan came back with a second video, accusing him of hypocrisy:

Clearly, both sides have valid points. But there’s no overlap. Like parent and child, Tommy Jordan and Dr. Phil seem to be riling each other up, with no middle ground to share. The good things is, with no real need for either of them to get their act together and fall in line, they can agree to disagree and go their separate ways. Tommy Jordan can go home and use Dr. Phil’s picture as target practice while Dr. Phil can show footage of Tommy Jordan in his show and make a whole episode about him, berating his style of parenting. Both are perfectly legitimate processes.

But Tommy Jordan and Hannah need to come to a resolution. They’re family. They live together and can’t agree to disagree, not in the way strangers can. Something’s got to give. Either dad realizes that shooting laptops makes an impression but doesn’t fix anything, and that he needs to address the deeper issues, the reasons why his daughter feels so stubborn, lazy, and resentful toward him, or he’s going to have to start breaking into her diary, or her mind, on a consistent basis to keep tabs. And the end result of that kind of break-in involves cuffs and jail time. He better not go down that road.

As for Hannah, she better realize that things don’t fall out of the sky at the click of a mouse, like the megabytes she keeps downloading (with her parents’ money?) to surf her way through life. She better grow some teeth in that mind of hers or she’ll end up bankrupt, or in jail, or in the arms of a whole different type of daddy, whose love is not tough but shallow and mean and deadly.

Love conquers all, they say. But logic secures the conquest. And humor washes away the bad blood and turns it into water under the bridge.

Now where’s my flamethrower?