Sunday, February 12, 2012

Shooting laptops doesn't equal good parenting

You've all seen the video, right? The dad whose daughter wrote a rude and untrue diatribe about him on Facebook, and in response he shot nine holes in her laptop? I keep seeing it reposted everywhere, with a lot of comments saying, "What a hero. Finally a dad standing up to his entitled teenager. We have so many bratty kids running around, and a bit more 'mean' parenting would do them good."

Yeah, I bet you could predict I would disagree with that, right?

For one thing, I think the whole "permissive parent" thing is something of a myth. I've never seen these permissive parents. Most parents aren't over-strict, but they do punish, and sometimes quite dramatically.

At the library, where we like to hang out, I see a lot of kids misbehaving. And I don't see a lot of parents who walk up to their kids, kneel down to their level, and say, "We don't bang on that table. Come over here and play with this other toy instead." I see parents who are playing with their iphones while their children misbehave. They stay right where they are and say in a bored, distracted tone, "Stop banging the table, Jeffrey. C'mon, stop banging the table." The kid keeps banging until the parent snaps, throws down the phone, gets up, grabs the kid, smacks him, and yells, "I told you to stop banging the table! Now you don't get dessert tonight!"

And (it seems to me) all the parents round about all nod sagely and think to themselves, "There you go. Put the smackdown on that kid. That's good parenting, right there, because you punished him."

It's not that consequences are bad. But simply the fact that you sometimes punish your kids doesn't make you a good parent. That's not by any means the defining factor.

What is? Gee, a lot of things. Do you actually bother to teach your kids right from wrong? Do you talk to them? Do you know what is important to them? Do you have consistent boundaries instead of just smacking them when you happen to feel annoyed? Do you give them a lot of loving attention when they're not misbehaving? (I'm thinking of Bill Cosby's line: "Parents do not care about justice, parents care about QUIET!")

I mean, in a country where we have lots of absent parents, a lot of latchkey kids, a lot of kids who sit in front of a screen all day, a lot of kids whose parents neither know nor care where they are when they're not home, kids who can't rely on a family dinner every night or a breakfast in the morning, kids who are abused, kids who are ignored .... why is it that everyone's latched onto this one thing, "lax parenting," that is supposed to cause all the problems we see in teenagers today? Especially when 85% of children are spanked at least sometimes. Clearly that has not been enough to guarantee good behavior in all of them.

The Wall Street Journal published an article recently suggesting that the problem with teenagers is that they are not given opportunities to practice responsibility and reasonable risk-taking at an early enough age -- early enough being before their brains are all fuddled with puberty. That kind of clashes with popular parenting culture. I'm always hearing that you're a negligent parent if you let your toddler climb on something when they might fall, because they might hurt themselves. But you're a lax parent unless you then spank them for trying to climb ... in order to hurt them, so that they learn. It is possible that the parent who lets a child climb and allows him to find out what it's like to fall (from a small height, obviously), will have less trouble with that child in adolescence. Who knows? I don't. (Though I really hope so, seeing as my kid fell off a chair and bonked his head today. It wasn't far, but I still feel bad about it.)

I admit I'm not an expert on teenagers. My dad used to say with pride that he never had any teenagers, he had young adults. I was loads of trouble when I was younger, but after going through all I did in boarding school, rebelling against my parents just seemed silly. Why would I rebel, when I had already tried all the independence I wanted, and when they weren't playing mind games with me or trying to break my will? So I can't exactly credit the tons of responsibility and trust my parents reposed in me with my lack of rebellion, though I'm sure it didn't hurt. My brother, though, never was a rebellious teenager either. Again, why would he rebel? He had tons of responsibility (through an afterschool job) and the trust of our parents. The teen years were a very stable time for both of us. I do know for sure, though, that they didn't keep track of what we said to our friends, in person or online, and wouldn't have punished us for saying what we thought. On the other hand, I would never have said anything that might come back around to hurt my mom's feelings, because ... well, duh. I liked and respected her and didn't want her feelings to be hurt.

[A tangent here: as a preteen, I was the world's most temperamental child. I am not exaggerating; I have never since seen an eleven-year-old act the way I did. I've seen Marko do it, though. Think toddler-force tantrums in a girl who really ought to know better. I was always punished for acting like that. My parents tried everything they could think of to get me to stop. And one day, probably without thinking much about it, my dad commented to me after one of my meltdowns, "You know, your mom's in her room crying because of how you just treated her." It was like a lightbulb that went off over my head. My mother had feelings too! I was hurting her! But I loved her and didn't want to hurt her! That was the one thing that made the difference to me and gave me the strength to really buckle down and control my temper. Relationship will always motivate me when consequences won't, and I think many kids are the same as I was.]

But one thing that does get me is this: the dad, in his later explanation, says that part of why he made the video was because so many of his acquaintances had seen his daughter's note, and he didn't want them to think .... that it was true and he was a tyrant? No, he didn't want them to think that he would let his daughter get away with saying that. So it wasn't just about setting appropriate limits for the child, after all. It was about looking like a good, that is a strict, parent.

I hear (I can't read the full text of his update, because of a browser issue) that the dad did admit that it wasn't the best way of dealing with the situation, that he would consider that his "worst eight minutes as a parent," and that he wouldn't do it again. So I'm not casting judgment on the dad. Probably he is a much better parent than suggested by the video.

He also says that his daughter learned her lesson. But about that I'm not too sure. Did she learn the lesson, "Don't throw a fit on the internet for everyone to see, because that is immature and hurts others"? Or did she learn the lesson, "Don't do that until you're eighteen, because it's okay when grown-ups do it"? Or worse, "Don't get caught next time."

I just think that if adults want good behavior from their kids, the number-one thing they should always do is model the behavior they would like to see. Other parenting tips and tricks will all fail if you don't start there. Kids, and especially teenagers, can detect hypocrisy in a heartbeat. So while the dad's internet rant may have been a powerful consequence, it was a terrible example.

What would I have done? Well, there are two separate offenses this girl did. First, she complained about her parents online, and second, some of what she said wasn't true. The first one I don't think is a crime. I guess it's the libertarian in me ... if my kid wants to whine about me, let them be my guest. They have a right to their thoughts, and they may soon discover that no one is really impressed with their angst anyway. The lying, though, is wrong and I would address that. I'd probably make her write a correction explaining everything in her original note that was a lie. That would certainly show her how bad lying makes you look, as well as let everyone who saw the original note know the truth of the matter. There might be another consequence as well, like extra chores for awhile or loss of internet privileges, but I'm not sure. It would kind of depend on what she said to me when I talked to her about it -- because obviously, that would be the first step.

We all have our not proud moments as parents. The time a kid is screaming at us and we just start screaming back. The time we give some enormous unreasonable consequence for a small infraction because we just can't take it anymore. The time we punish a kid and only later realize that he didn't even understand what he did wrong. But those aren't our proud moments. They shouldn't be praised or taken as an example. The comments I keep seeing that say, "Way to go, showing those entitled teens of nowadays who's boss," or, "Well, better to be too mean to a kid than too nice" (who made that rule up?!) just make me sad. It's just one more way of making parenting into a battle, and I think we could do better.

Here are a few other good responses to the video:

Connected Mom
Modern Alternative Mama
The Path Less Taken
Demand Euphoria

Have you seen the video? What did you think?


Fidelio said...

Oh, I didn't think it was good parenting.

I thought it was awesome.

Charming Disarray said...

I didn't like his video either. The people cheering him on seem just as childish as the daughter to me.

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