The Lesson of the Laptop-Shooting Dad

Why Tommy Jordan just might be the smartest parent in America

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Tommy Jordan in his online video

Is there a parent of a teenager that hasn’t seen the viral video made by Tommy Jordan, the North Carolina dad who shoots nine rounds into his snarky daughter’s laptop with a .45? The clip has been viewed more than 18 million times in less than a week on YouTube. It is both disturbing and so deeply satisfying that you can’t watch it without reliving every fantasy you’ve ever had about hurling one of your teen’s gadgets out a window or under a car after they’ve used it to ignore you or deceive you, or distract themselves from something they’re supposed to do. You imagine those tiny headphones flying and each nano of the offending device being crushed as your horrified child wails in disbelief because they never think we’ll really do it, no matter how many times we threaten.

But Tommy Jordan actually does it. And while he explains the case for destroying his daughter’s laptop while sitting calmly in a lawn chair, he’s clearly hurt and almost unspeakably angry. The 8-min. clip is so emotionally revealing, no wonder it struck such a chord. Because if you have a teenager, you know that no one and nothing can inspire such a confusing mix of fury, guilt and utter powerlessness like a misbehaving adolescent. And that’s why it’s no surprise that the millions of comments on the video are divided between people calling him a hero and others who were upset enough by the whole gun thing to demand that child protective services visit his house (and in fact they did visit, according to Jordan, and found that the family’s guns were safely stored in the house and the children were fine — though they did recommend some discipline techniques that did not involve handguns.)

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If you haven’t seen it, Jordan, a Marlboro-man lookalike introduces himself and says that he’s creating a video for 15-year-old daughter Hannah and her friends. He then reads an incredibly nasty and ungrateful-sounding “letter to my parents” that Hannah posted on Facebook in which she complains about her chores (“I’m not your damn slave,”) and says that when her dad gets too old to take care of himself and calls for her, she won’t be there. Ouch.

Hannah assumes that her Facebook privacy settings would keep her parents from seeing the letter, but as her dad notes in the video, this is not smart when your dad works in I.T. And what really tees Jordan off, besides Hannah’s suggestion that he pay her for chores rather than telling her to get a job, is that he’s spent all day upgrading her laptop and buying software for it only to have her use it against him.

That’s the exquisite irony in all this. We parents have created the instruments of our own torture — both the teens and their toys. And as Jordan points out, we seem to have raised a generation of kids who seem to think that ownership of a cell phone, iPod, laptop and Xbox is a human right, up there with food and shelter. This is something we can’t blame entirely on schools or the marketing geniuses at Apple. Jordan puts it best in a follow-up post on his own Facebook page: “It’s your kid.. so no matter what it’s ALWAYS your fault…get it?”

Yes. Yes, we do. And it’s painful. Jordan is just one of many parents who grew up with less-than-glamorous after school jobs which we did for money, not to fluff up our college applications with enriching activities. But with unemployment so high, it’s harder for kids to get jobs bussing tables or working in fast food. And that leaves us buying the fancy electronics without making the teens have to work for them. Jordan’s rant about kids being “entitled” and without “useable skills” echoes what some experts are saying. In an article called “What’s Wrong With The Teenage Mind?” in the Wall Street Journal, Alison Gopnik, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, explains our modern, technology-based dilemma. “In gatherer-hunter and farming societies, childhood education involves formal and informal apprenticeship. Children have lots of chances to practice the skills that they need to accomplish their goals as adults, and so to become expert planners and actors.” But today, she says: “contemporary children have very little experience with the kinds of tasks that they’ll have to perform as grown-ups…adolescents and pre-adolescents often don’t do much of anything except go to school.”

Gopnik suggests alternating enriching summer camp activities with summer jobs with real responsibility, or perhaps enrolling your kid in AmeriCorps, the federal community service program. It’s good advice. For my part, I’m going to try to hold the line on the few chores my kids are supposed to do without yelling (or shooting up any of their stuff.) And for anyone who still wants to condemn Jordan for either posting a video flaming his own child online (without realizing it could go viral) or using that gun, he reminds us on his Facebook page that this was 8-min., of his worst day as a parent. He says he regrets smoking during the video (his wife has been trying to get him to quit) and regrets wearing his “Tilley hat” instead of his “Silverbelly Stetson,” but he doesn’t regret speaking his mind. If nothing else, he convinced his daughter never to put anything up on Facebook she wasn’t prepared for the world to see. Jordan has also turned down many requests for reality shows and TV interviews. He’s says he’s made his point.

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