Dad With A Gun: Some Thoughts on Parenting

If you haven’t seen it yet, this video has been making the rounds a lot in the last couple of days.

I can understand the visceral “Hell, yeah!” reaction to this guy’s video. It’s the same rush of vicarious joy I get when watching Bruce Willis blow away the bad guys in Die Hard or Kiefer Sutherland squeeze the world-saving information out of the terrorists on 24. That’s a normal, human, reaction to someone actively and expressly dealing with a frustration or fear that we can all relate to in one way or another.

But just because it’s “normal” doesn’t mean it’s healthy or helpful.

Let’s reframe the situation a little to remove some of the unimportant details that people are getting caught up in (namely, who’s paid for what and the gun).

Imagine the daughter is out with some friends, perhaps going to a movie, and her cell phone pocket-dials dad. Thinking it’s his daughter calling, dad, of course, answers, but all he hears in the conversation that’s going on between his daughter and her friends.

“Damn, I wish my parents weren’t such slave-drivers. They make me do everything around the house. I hate them,” the daughter says (a close-enough paraphrase of what was said in the original posting). Standard teenager whining and complaining about parents. We’ve all done it. Especially when we think our parents can’t hear it.

Well, dad hears all of this, hops in his truck, and drives down to the movie theater. By the time he gets there, the film has already started. He goes into the theater, finds his daughter in the crowd and proceeds to drag her up in front of the big screen where he then announces to all present: “Look at this ungrateful little idiot. Don’t you think she needs to be taught a lesson?” And then takes her phone out of her pocket, throws it on the ground, and stomps on it. “Now I’m taking her home and she’ll be grounded for months.”

How would you feel if you saw this play out in front of you?

Chances are, it would be a bit different that you feel watching this video. I know I’d feel different. I’d be much more concerned than a lot of people seem to be.

Family ComputingBut, really, this video isn’t any different.

More importantly, dad here did *almost exactly the same thing* that his daughter did: made a semi-private post that unexpectedly found a larger audience.

Neither of them fully thought through the ultimate consequences–or even the *potential* consequences–of their actions.

The daughter thought she was just complaining to friends. I’m relatively certain she wouldn’t have said any of those things directly to her parents (the “why” of that is another discussion all together).

The dad thought he was just posting a video to his daughter’s friends and family, calling her out for her ungratefulness. (The usefulness of public shame in this situation is another discussion all together.)

Both of them found a much wider audience than they expected. The dad much more so because of his utterly wild actions. Actions that, anyone with half a clue about how YouTube works would know will get you a few hundred thousand views at least. (If he’d just used Facebook’s video option, he would have had direct control over the audience. But he didn’t because he didn’t like the interface and found YouTube easier.)

Then there was more posted…

The good news is, everything seems to be fine with the family for now. Read it here.

But, again, let’s take a step back. What has happened here?

A daughter has been shown that her private opinions, even when voiced in what she thinks is a safe arena, can bring drastic reactions from others.

A father has acted out in a childish, emotional, and unthinking manner that, to many, seems violent and disrespectful… not unlike what he is trying to punish his daughter for.

My main worries in the situation are that the communication between parent and child, already difficult during those teen years, can be easily and permanently damaged by things like this and that this sort of over-reaction on the part of a parent sets a bad precedent for other reactions that may not be quite so public.

Teens rebel, sometimes without a cause...Teenagers are, generally, trouble.

Teen years are times when boundaries are pushed. Sometimes in private, sometimes in public. This was a boundary push that was started in private–the girl complaining to her friends. While dad wasn’t actively snooping, what he stumbled across was not meant for him. While obviously hurtful, objectively speaking, it wasn’t anything dangerous–not a suicide threat, not a plan to run away, not a call to violence, not evidence of drug use or any number of other overtly dangerous things.

Now, if the girl had said those things directly to dad in a public place, he would have been put on the spot and I would maybe give him some leeway on his reaction at the time (assuming it was not overtly dangerous to anyone). But that’s not what happened.

Through willfulness, dad made this private even a semi-public event. Through ignorance, he made it a *very* public event. That sort of escalation has its place, but I don’t think this is the caliber of event that calls for it.

Yes, this seems to be at least a second point in a possible pattern of behavior for the daughter. But, in the follow up that was posted, it seems the daughter doesn’t even remember the first set of punishment that dad uses to justify this escalation. That, in and of itself, is an issue.

There are other options.

Off the top of my head, I can think of at least a handful of better, more growth and respect encouraging, ways to deal with an issue like this.

My choice would have been to call the daughter out on it, but at home. To point out to her that conversations online, no matter how much you think they are private are not. Make it clear that the info wasn’t obtained through snooping, but rather by accident (this prevents trust from being breached and shows respect for the daughter’s privacy and private thoughts). Then, once she calms down (because you know a 15 year old is going to raise at least a little hell when confronted like that), sit down and work with her on an actual list of what she has to do compared to what she gets from the family.

Then post that list on the fridge or her bedroom door… somewhere where she has to look at it every damn day and be reminded exactly where the weight of “privilege” is in the household.

Take away the computer, make her temporarily shut down her Facebook account. But give her two things: a calendar and a diary. The first she should make off every day of her grounding, this will prevent her from forgetting about it if there’s ever a next time. The second will give her a place where she can privately put down her thoughts, no matter what they are, without fear of them being seen by others. That encourages a healthy inner dialog that can be looked back on to see how much she has grown over time (or not grown, as the case may be).

I think most of the discussion I’ve seen on this whole thing has been quite sad. Parents complaining about “kids today” and those kids lashing out at draconian parents. Every generation complains about the younger crowd, usually rightfully so (at least to some extent). But complaining about it and taking extreme action does nothing for either side except widen the gap of misunderstanding and mistrust.

That doesn’t do anyone any good.

We can all do better than that.

Many have–because I know plenty of parents with damn good kids. And I know many kids that are damn good despite their parents’ shortcomings… but that’s a much harder thing to achieve.

[Some good conversation was had over on Facebook regarding this. Join in here, or comment below.]

About Kier

I've been on the web since about 1994. I have a background in a lot of things, including a five year stint as a journalist and over a decade of helping people get their message out to the world.

I write on a number of subjects--everything from relationships to personal development to politics and every day life. I hope you get something worthwhile out of it.

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