I was working on another blog post when the gun slinging dad hit the airwaves. No doubt you have seen him, the father who responded to his teenage daughter’s disrespectful facebook rant with his own YouTube declaration of disgust capped by firing hollowpoint rounds from his 45 into her laptop. The morning news shows and their resident parenting experts are having a ball. Thousands of parents responded to NBC’s poll, the vast majority supporting the dad’s actions. I understand where the support is coming from. Parents are tired of the disrespect. Parents are tired of the teenage give-me’s and get me’s. Parents want children who understand the benefits of hard work, the value of a dollar, and the importance of saying thank you to those who care for you. The images of this event on the internet are so far from any and all pictures I can conjure in my mind to represent good parenting, and the positive response is so disturbing, that I had to weigh in.
Issue one – we cannot parent virtually! We are raising a cyber-generation that may be more comfortable on-line than in person, but it is our job as parents to keep our children human and related. If our children post their passions, we need to engage them in dialogue. If they text their truths, we need to invite them to share them over coffee, face to face. We need to encourage and model the best in real life connection and communication, in good times and in stress. Especially in the teen years, when our children are invested in creating distance and space from the family, we need to say, live and in-person, loud and clear, that we are here, we are a family, we are with you. This father’s actions do nothing to advance the dialogue, nothing to build connection. He, like his teenager, monologues rather than converses, rants rather than reasons.
Which brings me to Issue 2 – we must, always and forever, BE THE GROWN-UP! Revenge is sweet, anger release feels so good, living in and for the moment is exhilarating . . . that’s why children and teens act out and act without thinking. Good parenting means you don’t get to have the temper tantrums. You don’t get to do what feels good – you do what is good for your children. It is not always fun and that’s why parents often look fondly backwards to their child and teen years. And in those carefree years, hopefully, we were all blessed with adults who got it, who understood what being a grown-up, 24/7, 365 meant. There are no vacations from grown-uphood, and raving, cursing, or shooting off one’s mouth or gun are not exemplars of thoughtful or reasoned adult conduct.
Finally, we are, as parents, our children’s most important teachers. Just as classroom educators bemoan not having enough time to cover the curriculum, we know our opportunity to impact our growing children flies by woefully quickly. We can ill afford to squander teachable moments. The parents polled who agree with the dad’s actions want the daughter in question, and their own children, to learn the lesson that rudeness and disrespect has a cost. We want children to learn that someone pays for negative actions, and the father carefully calculates the money he has spent fixing his daughter’s laptop which lies now fatally wounded. My concern is about the inadvertent lessons taught – that money spent is irrelevant, and what we yesterday build we will tomorrow, in fits of rage, destroy. That revenge is sweet and fair, and the solution to problems comes at the end of gun. That grown-ups and teens use the same methods, to speak their mind and get even. These lessons scare me, and I suspect are less than comforting or growth promoting for children.
In a world that often seems piloted by impulsive, self-serving and whining babies, can we afford to celebrate parents who act childishly? I for one long for a world populated by grown-ups who know how much children need them to be the grown-up. The day in, day out grind of being the grown-up will probably never make YouTube. It won't be validated in surveys or get hours of tv coverage - it is, however, what will make our children grow to become healthy, helpful grown-ups someday, and to develop into the adults and parents that will make us proud.