Today’s post is a guest post by the novelist and essayist, Jane Devin. We’re delighted she stopped by to bark and walk in our back yard and welcome her any time she wants to wander in. If you haven’t already, buy her book, Elephant Girl. It is nothing short of amazing.
Earlier this month, a YouTube video of a fed-up father who shot up his daughter’s laptop after she posted a disrespectful letter about her parents on Facebook went viral on the internet. This is the video:
A few words up front: I was not a perfect parent and sometimes not even an adequate one. I don’t know Mr. Jordan or his daughter well enough to speak to their true characters, intentions, or their family dynamics.
What I do know is what Mr. Jordan chose to make public. First, his 15 year old daughter wrote a scathing post against her parents which many people, including me, thought made her sound like an entitled brat. She posted it on Facebook and her dad found it through their dog’s account (seriously). Second, Mr. Jordan decided to teach Hannah a lesson by posting a video to her Facebook wall. After going off on his own diatribe, which I found not too horrible (hey, parents are people, too — our feelings get hurt and we don’t appreciate being disrespected,) Mr. Jordan decided to put several rounds of bullets into his daughter’s computer. That’s where his family drama became ugly for me.
A majority of parents (and by my count mostly women), lauded Mr. Jordan with praises like, “It’s great to see someone actually parent” and “The brat got what she deserved – I bet she won’t dare act that way again”. It takes a lot to shock me, but these kind of comments did. Here’s why:
1) If it was any other authoritarian relationship — say, employee/employer, teacher/student — people would have been up in arms over the destruction of property in order to teach a lesson, not applauding the act. If someone provided a computer to their employee or student and then shot it up when they found them abusing it, most of us would think they were nuts, even if they did pay for what they destroyed. We wouldn’t be praising the “lesson” they were teaching.
2) The “lesson” that it’s somehow okay to destroy someone’s property when you feel disrespected, even if it’s something you bought as a gift, teaches that destruction and revenge are appropriate responses. It seems to me that a lot of people who grow up with that lesson are the same ones who do things like slash the tires of their boyfriend’s car when they find out he wasn’t faithful.
3) The definition of vandalism is “deliberate, mischievous, or malicious destruction of public or private property.” The law may have given the father the right to control his daughter’s use of property, and he could argue that the property was ultimately a gift he bought and then reclaimed, but the spirit of vandalism remains. He deliberately and maliciously destroyed something even he admitted was his daughter’s.
4) Discipline and revenge are not the same thing. That’s why comments like “finally, a parent acting like a parent” stunned me. Since when is an act of vengeance the same as discipline? While I understand people’s frustration with kids who are spoiled or act “entitled” I fail to see how shooting up a child’s possessions can, in any way, be considered good parenting or intelligent discipline.
5) The public doesn’t know, can’t know, both sides of the story. The dad said his daughter was grounded for three months before for doing something “similar” and “stupid.” To those who say the girl was previously spoiled and therefore needed a harsh reminder of her place, I’d counter that a three month restriction seems pretty drastic and not lax at all. A quarter of a year is a long time in the life of a teen — and there are few teenagers who don’t repeat their mistakes. And that list of chores? How long did they take in reality? Did the girl also work at her stepmom’s business, as she claimed? Was she given adequate time outside of school to be a kid? We don’t know. While the girl’s letter was nasty — I especially took exception to the “cleaning lady” bit — maybe she had her own and possibly legitimate reasons for being frustrated.
6) Like Hannah’s father, I also left home at 16. I was mostly self-supporting by the age of 14. I don’t think it made me a better or more responsible person, and I would not wish that kind of necessary but early independence on any teenager. I have no problem with a 15 year old having a part-time job, but unlike Hannah’s dad I don’t view it as a requirement. I think a child’s primary job is to go to school. I think learning social skills and having friends and activities is also important. There’s plenty of time and occasions in life to go to work at Burger King for minimum wage. At 15, I think a job should be a choice, not a condition of living happily under your parent’s roof.
7) Another viral YouTube video was that of a judge who was shown spanking and yelling at his then-teenage daughter for being disobedient. He had told her not to download music from the internet and she did. The majority of parents condemned the judge for his abuse, which was blatant and easy to see. Almost no one in that case called the girl a spoiled brat or praised the judge for his parenting skills. Yet Mr. Jordan was lauded for shaming his daughter publicly by posting his video on Facebook and YouTube — an act that will have consequences for her years into the future — and for taking a gun to his daughter’s property in order to prove that he was the man in charge. The hallmarks of domestic violence are not always physical. The six signs of an abuser are: Dominance, Humiliation, Isolation, Threats, Intimidation, Denial and Blame. Again, I do not know Mr. Jordan outside of what he has made public, but I see all six signs in the behavior exhibited in his video. He asserted his dominance, humiliated his daughter, promised to isolate her through restriction, threatened her with promises that her life was about to get “a whole lot harder,” intimidated her by showing her his power, denied that she had any right to complain, and then blamed her for his own overreaction, which was to put several rounds of ammunition into her property. I do not see much of a moral difference between the physical abuse of the judge and what Mr. Jordan did. Both men showed a lack of self-control and used their power wrongly. To condemn one while praising the other is, to me, hypocritical at best.
I believe in discipline. I don’t believe in destruction. I believe that good parents have a right to demand respect. I don’t believe respect is achieved through acts of violence. I believe children should know that their parents are human and can get angry and have hurt feelings just like anyone else — but I think it’s a parent’s job to model an appropriate way to deal with frustration. The use of a gun to make a point is never appropriate. Ever. That many people think it is — that the majority of comments praise Mr. Jordan — doesn’t make him, or the majority, right.