A Nurtured Heart Response to Tommy Jordan, Author of “Facebook Parenting for the Troubled Teen”

How can we as parents and teachers create relationships with children that weather the teenage years with grace?

Parents and teachers, if you have not already watched this video, please do. With over 30 million views (and counting) on YouTube, this video of an angry father, Tommy Jordan, has generated thousands of comments about a hot-button issue – parenting in the age of social media.

In the video, Mr. Jordan reads a letter his daughter put on Facebook, titled “To My Parents,” which she blocked from family, but allowed all friends to see. However, her father inadvertently discovered the video, and created his own response, which culminated in his destruction of her laptop with a 45-caliber handgun.

Bloggers, news outlets, and even Dr. Phil have commented on the video, and there has been much discussion of his parenting. The majority of the responses are highly polarized; either sharp criticism or accolades.

There are indeed lessons we can take away from the controversy created by this video. Disciplining disrespectful teenagers has been an issue for generations of parents. Entire books, websites, and counseling practices are devoted to counseling for troubled teenagers. In my practice, I coach parents who want to avoid this kind of worst-case scenario with their children, and instead create a healthy family dynamic.

Discipline in the Nurtured Heart Approach uses the core values of the parent to respond to the child. We all have certain values and core qualities that we want our families to demonstrate, but when our children and students behave in a way that is incongruent or violates those values, our response needs to be congruent with our values, especially if we are frustrated and angry. Mr. Jordan’s core value of respect was severely violated by his daughter’s letter. However, his actions were not consistent with respect, but rather perpetuated a cycle of revenge.

In the context of the Nurtured Heart Approach, discipline is about learning, not about punishment and control. Parental response to this type of teenage behavior indeed requires consequences, especially because Mr. Jordan states that he had previously taken away her laptop as a disciplinary measure. Now that Mr. Jordan’s daughter has violated the boundaries again and her behavior has inflicted emotional pain on her family, it is up to her to restore the relationship with her parents, especially her father. She should be held accountable by having to make amends, rather than simply accepting punishment. Moving forward, he needs to help his daughter understand the consequences of breaking rules while guiding her towards restoration and forgiveness.

When the daughter shows this understanding, it is her father’s job to forgive. In this way, father and daughter can move forward without resentment. However, if there has not been a positive, loving relationship modeled to her by her parents, the daughter may have little motivation or desire to make amends… and thus, the cycle of revenge continues.

How can you make sure this never happens in your own family or school? Ask yourself, “What are my triggers? What do my kids do that gets to me?” When a child “pushes your buttons,” ask yourself this question before you respond: “What core values of mine are being violated right now?” If we are not aware of our values, we will respond with words and actions that are incongruent with those values.

For example, one of my own core values is kindness. When my five-year-old son acts unkindly towards his sister, my job is to give consequences, but in a kind way. This should not be confused with being “soft” or a “push-over,” because one can be kind and strict at the same time.

Choose to be fearless. Don’t rob a child of the experience of learning from his or her mistakes. Just make sure your response to the child is consistent with your core values. When parents or teachers go too far, it is usually out of frustration. When you make mistakes, and you will, be humble and admit those mistakes to the child. When your child acts out, tie your response back to your core values so that you discipline the actions rather than punish the child. In this way, children learn to follow the rules rather than play the adult’s emotions. Children cannot push Mom, Dad or the teacher’s buttons if there are no buttons to push.