Spare the laptop.Don’t spoilthe child.

Michelle Singletary
Columnist February 18, 2012

I’ve taken away my 16-year-old daughter’s laptop. I’ve confiscated her cellphone.

However, I’ve never considered destroying these items to further punish her for not doing her chores, for being disrespectful or for being ungrateful. But that’s what one father did. Tommy Jordan shot his daughter’s laptop — nine times — after he found a profanity-laced tirade she had written on her Facebook page.

Michelle Singletary writes the nationally syndicated personal finance column, “The Color of Money.” View Archive

In her posting, Jordan’s daughter, Hannah, complained that she feels like a “slave” because she is asked to make coffee for her parents and perform various household chores.

“We have a cleaning lady for a reason,” the daughter wrote. “Her name is Linda, not Hannah.”

She went on: “I’m tired of picking up after you. You tell me at least once a day that I need to get a job. You could just pay me for all the [expletive] that I do around the house. . . . I have no idea how I have a life. I’m going to hate to see the day when you get too old to wipe your [expletive] and you call me, asking for help. I won’t be there.”

In an eight-minute video posted on Facebook and YouTube, and occasionally peppered with profanity, Jordan gave as good as he got from his 15-year-old daughter. His video has gone viral, and now experts and parents are taking sides on whether his action deserves a bravo or is an example of poor parenting.

“Pay you for chores? Are you out of your mind? You’re 15, going on 16 years old,” he says. “You want things for your laptop. You want a new battery. You want a new [power] cord. You want a new camera. You want a new phone. You want a new iPod, but you won’t get off your lazy [expletive] to get, to even look for, a job. The only job that you have applied to is the one I made you apply to because I got the application for you.”

Having a sense of entitlement might be a rite of passage for a child, but it’s up to parents to find constructive and instructive ways to teach them gratitude. I wouldn’t have destroyed the laptop (I’m too frugal for that), but I identify with Jordan’s frustration with a child who feels entitled.

Many of our children are overindulged, even by the best of parents, says Jean Illsley Clarke, a parent educator and researcher who has studied the impact of overindulging children. She’s also the co-author of “How Much Is Enough?: Everything You Need to Know to Steer Clear of Overindulgence and Raise Likeable, Responsible and Respectful Children.”

“Overindulging is ubiquitous,” Clarke said in an interview.

Our culture bombards children with advertising messages that enough isn’t good enough. And because their brains aren’t fully developed, children have difficulty not giving in to the feeling that they need more, Clarke said. And parents compound the problem by overindulging.

So how do you know if you are overindulging your children?


This frame grab taken from an undated video posted on YouTube by Tommy Jordan of Albemarle, N.C. on Feb. 8 shows Jordan answering his teenage daughter’s Facebook complaints by firing several rounds from his handgun into his daughter's laptop as it lies on the ground. More than 26 million people have seen the video. (AP Photo/YouTube channel of Tommy Jordan)

Clarke says to ask yourself whether your spending on your children is taking up a disproportionate amount of family resources. Additionally, whose needs are really being met? Are you buying your child things to make up for what you felt you lacked as a child?

Clarke said if she were mentoring Jordan, she would have asked him to think of other ways to communicate his disapproval over his daughter’s posting. Nonetheless, she applauded his actions.

“Thank goodness a parent finally took a stand,” Clarke said. “Maybe this is what it took to get his daughter’s attention. What right do all these people have to criticize this father? Chances are many of them are overindulgent.”

On Clarke’s Web site, www.overindulgence.info, you’ll find some interesting research and resource material to help you avoid overindulging your children. Clarke said research she’s conducting shows that children who were highly overindulged grow up to have life goals focused on money, image and fame. They are not interested in making the world a better place or helping other people unless it directly helps them in some way. Jordan was scared for his daughter, she believes.

“My take is it takes a really good dad to go to this extreme,” she said. “Think how much easier it would have been to look at what she did and to ignore it and say, ‘Ah she’s just 15.’ ”

Perhaps Jordan should have kept his daughter’s punishment private. Maybe shooting the laptop was over the top. But at least he did something bold to reach a child who has lost perspective on how good she had it.

Readers can write to Michelle Singletary c/o The Washington Post, 1150 15th St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20071. Or e-mail: singletarym@washpost.com. Personal responses may not be possible. Please also note comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer’s name, unless a specific request to do otherwise is indicated.

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