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Shooting the ‘messenger’

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Esther Cepeda
February 19, 2012
— When last I checked, Tommy Jordan’s video “Facebook Parenting: For the troubled teen,” where he shoots up his daughter’s laptop, had been viewed 25,505,340 times on YouTube.

Jordan had previously clashed with his 15-year-old daughter about appropriate behavior on her social media networks. Then, after spending more than $100 and several hours of his time upgrading her laptop, he ran across a complaint letter she wrote and posted on her Facebook wall that put him over the edge.


The next day, he filmed his video. It shows a frustrated man so disappointed by his daughter’s expletive-laced digital diatribe—on the perennial teen-angst topics of chores, schoolwork and general parental unfairness—that he feels the best course of action is to publicly castigate her by shooting a whole clip of exploding-tip bullets into her laptop and posting it online.


Commenters on the original post and on the YouTube video have either hailed him as a parental folk hero for his “tough love” or denounced him as a clueless villain who might as well have shot up the girl’s diary.


It’s not great parenting to publicly shame your child or resort to symbolic violence with a real .45-caliber handgun to make a point—Child Protective Services visited the family to ensure Hannah’s safety—but the video is a testament to the anxiety of a generation of parents. They grew up in a world so foreign from their kids’ present-day reality that they are completely unprepared to deal with their children’s notions of work and play.


Let’s say Jordan was 15 in the 1980s. Back then, children were expected to work—they either did chores at home or, starting as young teens, got jobs to help the family, save, or help pay for schooling if they intended to go to college.


Since that time, society has shifted to where many middle- and upper-class families treat each of their children as 18-year get-into-college projects that begin in infancy. Countless extracurricular activities designed to both enrich and make for a great university entrance application, in addition to schoolwork, aren’t expected to leave much room for low-wage work that couldn’t begin to dent soaring tuition costs.


Throughout history, there have always been distractions, but nothing could possibly compare to the spectacle of entertainments that now await us 24 hours a day. Cellphone calls and texts keep people from sleeping at night, and unlimited audio and video are accessible from smartphones, electronic tablets, home gaming systems and personal computers. Through these innovations life is largely lived in the pretend privacy of public social networks, some of which are specifically designed to air sorrows and grievances.


Jordan, like everyone else, is trying to figure out how to deal with this cacophony. I don’t know if he’s one of the 52 percent of Americans 18 and older who report spending four to nine hours a day watching electronic devices—whether that’s watching TV, viewing video, texting or interacting on social media networks—but he lives in a world where 12 percent of people surveyed say they spend 10 hours or more doing so.

That’s the same world where law enforcement, employers and marketers all mine social-media sites for leads, background checks and positive impressions while others study such sites to determine whether they help or hurt democracy, interpersonal relationships and community bonds.


Adults don’t quite know what to make of social media’s impact on their own lives and fear the toll on their kids’: A Poll Position survey last November found that 53 percent of Americans believe social media are harmful to the social development of young people.


It’s no wonder that today’s 40-and-older adults are having such a hard time navigating their families through this new world that destroying electronic devices feels like a productive way to deal with its challenges.


This will pass.


Parents Jordan’s age and older will limp along, expressing their frustrations as best they can, but will soon be replaced by upcoming waves of parents who will have grown up in the digital age.


By the time today’s net natives become parents, they’ll be raising children whose own social and electronic habits mirror their own—for better or worse—in a society chock-full of sound, well-researched advice for parenting in a social media world.


Esther Cepeda is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group. Her email address is estherjcepeda@washpost.com.

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