parenting the troubled teen

A friend posted this on Facebook because she thought it was funny. Before you click on it, I want you to know that it may be incredibly triggering to survivors of emotional abuse, as well as to those with anxiety.  The first time I tried to watch it, I had to turn it off after less than a minute. I watched it the next morning when fullly-rested and feeling peaceful. By the time it was over, my heart was pounding in my chest in a way that I recognized from my adolescence and young adulthood. It was the adrenaline-filled, trapped feeling that I would have when my mother was devaluing and punishing me.

In the video, Tommy Jordan, father to a 15-year-old daughter, reads his daughter's Facebook diatribe against her parents, then tackles her complaints point-by-point. Throughout the video, he shows disgust with her point of view, mocks her, talks about how infinite her grounding will be, and belittles her. The video concludes with his idea of justice: he unloads a handgun clip into her laptop computer and informs her that she is responsible for replacing her own laptop as well as reimbursing him not only for the software he installed on it, but also for the nine bullets he put into it.  Transcript here.

Many people are congratulating Jordan on his parenting choice. Many more, myself included, are appalled. Some people saw a take-charge, tough-love dad asserting his authority and giving his daughter a taste of her own medicine. Justice! Discipline! Here's what I saw:
  • a daughter venting her frustration about balancing her workload and personal life at a time when her school assignments have become harder and take more time, her family responsibilities have increased, and her social needs have also become more complex.
  • a daughter who feels like the assignment of family chores is unjust.
  • a daughter who is behaving in a manner emotionally consistent with adolescence.
  • a father who takes her rant personally.
  • a father who decides to respond in an "an eye for an eye" vindictive method of justice.
  • a father who mocks his daughter's statements.
  • a father who seems unaware of how normal his daughter's behavior is.
  • a father whose reaction is out of proportion to his daughter's action.
  • a father who states his intent to humiliate his daughter.
  • a father who uses shame as a parenting tool.
  • a father who threatens to restrict his daughter's physical liberty.
  • a father who destroys his daughter's property.
  • a father who does not use one single compassionate word in his own diatribe.
This dad has some baggage, to put it mildly.  His reaction shows his own emotional development to be somewhere in the adolescent range. An emotionally secure and healthy adult (heck, even many of us who are flawed!) would certainly be angered and probably embarrassed by a child's angry rant - even more so if our child posted the rant in a place where it could be easily read by over 400 people - but would, hopefully, take some time to get perspective, then think of a compassionate way to listen to her feelings, communicate our own, and find a solution to the situation. 

In fact, that's pretty much exactly what the book How To Talk So Teens Will Listen & Listen So Teens Will Talk (Faber & Mazlish, 2005), which I have been reading lately, recommends. The authors outline a five-step process to conflict resolution:
  1. Invite your teen to give his point of view
  2. State your point of view
  3. Invite your teenager to brainstorm with you
  4. Write down all ideas - silly or sensible - without evaluating
  5. Review your list, decide which ideas you can both agree to and how you can put them into action.
Notice that the first step is to listen to the kid. Nowhere in Jordan's rant does he ever give any indication that he understands that his daughter is a thinking, feeling human being who has her own perspective on their family situation. I know he's hurt, but it's a parent's job to get over your own shit and focus on the child. I don't know of a single parenting resource that recommends shaming and lecturing children, public humiliation, and destruction of property. In fact, those are all elements of an abusive relationship based on control and domination. 

As a parent, I get that Jordan wants to teach his daughter a lesson. Is public shaming a good way to do it? Do lectures work? No, and no. You know what works? Teaching by example. Jordan wants his daughter to show respect, but he doesn't show any to her, so where will she learn how to show respect? Jordan wants his daughter not to air her grievances in public, but he airs his publicly (his YouTube video will surpass 12 million views today), so how will she learn other ways of resolving conflict? Even the average person on the street these days knows that "do as I say, not as I do" is a piss-poor way to parent. The argument that a child has had values "instilled" in them and "knows that there will be consequences" (frequent retorts from emotionally abusive parents) are bogus. One does not "instill" values into a child by simply telling them those values at top volume. Values are taught by example. The example this girl is seeing is one of a controlling, manipulative, vengeful parent. Will she go on to be yet another mother who makes abusive parenting choices because her father, God bless him, taught her the value of an ass-whoopin'? 

Jordan argues that his daughter (who is named in the video) has not been damaged by her facebook notoriety.  He mentions their "amicable" chats about previous punishment and says that she sees the humor in this particular event and will grow up "happy and healthy." I call bullshit. This girl has probably learned that there's no way out of this controlling relationship.If you can't get away from your abuser, you lay down and take it. You even thank him for it. You convince yourself that these are, in fact, the actions of a loving parent. You smile and say "I love you, daddy," and perhaps earn a hug from the abuser, who is pleased to have bullied you back into your proper submissive place.

Another friend of mine commented that we really can't judge this guy's parenting from one video. I would contend that we can. A healthy parent would not do this. Period. If this were a parent beating a child in the middle of a public place, we would not hesitate in the slightest to label it as abuse, intervene to protect the child, and call the police. Emotional abuse is abuse. It might not be inflicted with punches and kicks, but it is no less harmful, and we have the same obligation to say "this is NOT OK," to explain what isn't ok about it, and to point the way to more compassionate, loving parenting choices.

This girl needed an adult to say "you were feeling really angry, can we talk about it?" and to hear her - really, fully hear her. She didn't need somebody to tell her why her thoughts and feelings are wrong. She didn't need somebody to quibble over the facts. She didn't need to be shamed and threatened. She did need to hear the feelings her parents had about her actions, but probably only after she had been given a chance to vent. She needed somebody to feel sympathetic to her difficulty in figuring out the work-life balance that even most adults complain about. I'm willing to bet that if they had had a truly open-minded, open-hearted chat, they would have been able to find a resolution to this particular situation, and more importantly, she would have been nurtured and learned another way of handling conflict.

Instead of doing this, her father acted like an overgrown, gun-toting adolescent himself: impulsive, rash, without a thought for the potential consequences (like hell he didn't know it could go viral).

I hurt for her. I know what it is to grow up with an emotionally-stunted parent who overreacts, takes things personally, and lashes out in retribution. It's my hope for this young girl that there's a kind adult in her life, if not now, then in the future. I'm sure that she thinks her life is normal and that her father is loving. Most of us abused kids do. I hope that via life experience, a loving friend, counseling, or some other avenue(s), she is eventually able to understand what really happened during her childhood, heal, and change her own path. 


  1. Oh my god, what the FUCK. I saw that video mentioned on the Yahoo front page the other day, but I didn't know what it was about. Where are the people being appalled? Maybe it's cause it's YouTube, but 98% of the comments were APPLAUSE. I cannot believe there are that many PSYCHOpaths out there. Even the ones who say "She's childish, but he's being childish" too are wrong. Her rant wasn't even a rant and she sounded pretty dang smart and on it to me. I hope she makes good on that promise at the end. She ain't going to be there. She didn't do anything childish because her 'sin' was really a reaction to her PARENTS' SINS. They're the ones slavedriving her and talking about her like she's dirt. She only spoke up about it. That isn't childish. That's freaking mature. She is SMART.

    But I can imagine she wanted to cry after he shot her laptop up 9 times. She had her bit of freedom online and he took away the one thing precious to her. Makes me cry a little just thinking about it.

  2. What's really scary is the only thread about it on the Out of the Fog forums is about six people /congratulating him/ on abusing his daughter. A support group. One that's in part for people in relationships with narcissists. And they're laughing about it and congratulating him on it.

  3. Anon, I just read that thread and posted a reply (username Mokey). It's disappointing to see people who were raised by abusive parents praising this parent. :(

    Lisa, there's a lot of criticism spread around the web, but you're right, the applause for this guy is pretty deafening. I think most people are raised in a tough-love kind of way that they inherited from their own parents and that they pass down to their kids. It's very hard to question yourself and the way you were parented, and most people don't do it. They have to believe what they're doing is right, or they wouldn't be able to face themselves or their parents.

  4. Great, great post! I was starting to wonder if I was the only one who wasn't saying, "That'll teach her respect!" without seeing the irony. Even my own friends -- some of them parents -- are being crazymakers in this regard.

    How much do you want to bet that this girl wouldn't have been complaining on Facebook if anybody at HOME was listening to her? And now this controller takes away what's probably her only outlet (especially if she's grounded), because that's what controllers and abusers do... isolate you. How else could they get you to "admit" that they're OK?

    If you're a real grownup, it's simple: Pick on someone your own size. Be an example or shut up.

  5. Treat her with respect? YOu gotta be kidding. She's destroyed that. She fubard that up when she pulled her stunt. Shes a child she has the right to sit down shut up and do as her parents say. Until she can pay for her own existence she is dependent on someone else for her support. UNTIL She pays her own way she has no opinion.

  6. I find it very telling that she told him off the way she did, in a setting where he would not see what she wrote, where she felt safe to express herself. I think it was a cry for help. If she had felt like she could have addressed these things directly, she would not have done this. Seeing his reaction, I can't blame her a bit. Yes, she comes across as snotty, entitled and disrespectful, but read beyond that: she feel trapped, bitter, overwhelmed and powerless.

  7. Anon, I think you and I come from two very different perspectives when it comes to what children are and how adults can and should relate to them. We're talking about a 15-year-old. She is not an adult. Adults must mentor her, not bully her into submission. Of course, that's not a popular point of view, because most of us adults were raised by controlling parents and then carry that same agenda out with our own children.

    The idea that a child should have no say at all because she is physically, emotionally, and/or financially dependent upon another person seems pretty callous to me.

    I'm assuming that she didn't destroy her father's respect with her act, because she never had his respect to begin with, and she knew it.

    Chamoisee, I agree, it seems like a cry for help, even if she doesn't realize it yet. Kids who feel emotionally safe with their parents typically don't feel driven to act out in public spaces.

  8. I find it very chilling when someone argues that, essentially, only money makes one a human being. If and when Anon II gets too old to work and needs to be supported by his/her children, will this person suddenly have "no opinion" and no rights? I'm sure s/he'd change views pretty quickly then, but if her/his values have been instilled well, s/he may not have a choice.

  9. This is sickening to me...I've just done a preliminary read-through. I'm not sure I can stomach watching the video just yet, but I'm going to try. After, I'll have my say!!

  10. The Shafia trial just ended here in Canada. The father was extremely controlling and abusive. His daughters and first wife ended up dead. THIS father has a gun. I am very worried for this girl.

  11. Oh my god, that is horrific. Poor girl! And how did he even see her facebook anyway? He was really smug about being able to get access to her page when he was blocked. Obviously he was snooping and sneaking and deceiving in order to access that. I feel so sad for this young girl, who clearly went to some trouble to create a safe space for herself online, who was trying to express her needs in a safe way, and ended up even more abused by her horrible abusive fuckhead of a father.