A Family Therapist’s View of the Dad Who Shot his Daughter’s Laptop
by Gina Simmons, Ph.D.
An angry father shot several bullets into his teenage daughter’s laptop computer. He shot her computer in response to an angry note she wrote on Facebook where she complained, “I’m not your damn slave,” ”I’m tired of picking up after you,” and “You know how hard it is to keep up with the chores and schoolwork? It’s freaking crazy.”
The father, visibly infuriated by his daughter’s suggestion that she be paid for her chores, takes a .45-caliber pistol and puts nine rounds into her laptop. “You don’t have to worry about buying a new laptop battery. You don’t have to worry about buying a new power cord. You don’t have to worry about buying a new camera. Because you won’t be using any of them till probably college,” he says in the video.
His videotaped rant, over eight minutes long, has over 25 million views on youtube. He’s been congratulated by the police, investigated by child protective services and become a hero to angry parents of disrespectful teens everywhere. I watched the video with the sad familiarity of a family therapist with 28 years of experience cooling the hot tempers of angry teens and their rage-filled parents.
Fights over housework and homework comprise the bulk of therapy sessions. Parents expect obedience and cooperation, teens expect understanding and support. Teens say, “my parents never listen to me,” and parents say, “my kid never listens.” A recent study found that most parents grossly underestimate the amount of stress their teens experience every day. In addition to navigating the brutal humiliation of high school, successful teens must:
- Find an identity.
- Develop competencies for college and career.
- Navigate complicated social and sexual challenges.
- Accept their parents as flawed people.
Jordan, the laptop shooting dad, could take a parenting lesson from one of the great fathers in literature. Atticus Finch, the single father in Harper Lee’s classic, To Kill a Mockingbird, had two children, Jem and Scout, who disobeyed his orders, got in fights, criticized him, used bad language and made unreasonable demands. He said, “Bad language is a stage all children go through, and it dies with time when they learn they’re not attracting attention with it.” When his son Jem refused to come down from a tree until Atticus did what he wanted, Atticus just let him sleep in the tree, knowing he’d come down eventually. Atticus understood that overreacting to the unreasonable demands of children would not teach them the appropriate lessons of life.
Jordan might now have a happier home had he approached his daughter with the calm, confident poise of Atticus Finch. If he came to my office with this problem I would have said, “take your daughter aside and talk to her. Say something like, ‘honey, it seems from your Facebook letter that you’re real mad. You seem stressed out about housework and homework and don’t feel like you have any time for fun. You should have talked to your mom and me directly, rather than writing this letter on Facebook. This letter embarrasses your family, and makes you look disrespectful. Now we can talk about your schedule and the housework and see if we can work something out to lower your stress and help all of us get along more happily. But I need you to correct this mistake you made. I suggest you write an apology to your parents on Facebook. This will show your maturity and responsibility, and we can then put this whole thing behind us.’”
In To Kill a Mockingbird Atticus faces an angry daughter who was cruelly harassed by a neighbor. Rather than mount a retaliation Atticus says, “If you just learn a single trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” If Jordan had tried to understand things from his daughter’s point of view, he might have taught her a valuable lesson in conflict resolution. Instead she likely learned to take extreme measures when she feels disrespected.
Photo courtesy of teapics.