Social Media & Parents: The Tale Of Tommy Jordan

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Of all the news stories relating to social media, teens, and parents over the past few months (or perhaps even years), none has garnered quite so much attention and controversy as that of North Carolinian Tommy Jordan and his teenage daughter Hannah.

In a video posted to YouTube in early February, Jordan is seen reading a letter his daughter posted to Facebook, in which she profanely and rudely berates her parents for treating her like a “slave” (which in this case meant making her pull her own weight at home). Hannah posted it to Facebook, but blocked her parents from reading it using Facebook’s newest wave of privacy controls. But she forgot to block the joke page that had been created for – of course – the family dog. So when her father Tommy hopped on Facebook, still logged in – unknowingly – as the pup, the first thing that popped up on the Newsfeed was the angry letter written by Hannah. Considering this wasn’t Hannah’s first offense when it came to her social media habits, Dad was fed up.

So what’d he do? He grabbed his video camera, Hannah’s laptop, and his .45 and proceeded to put nine bullets in the computer. And people ate it up – to the tune of 29 million views so far. What followed was an uncharacteristically public evaluation of Jordan’s parenting, including some jeers and a lot of cheers.

While I can’t speak to the efficacy of Jordan’s tactics, I think we all understand how difficult teenagers can be – and that it’s hard for even the most even-keeled parent to keep their cool when dealing with an entitled youngster. Parenting in the digital generation is going to continue to become more interesting, more provocative, and – for sure – more public. As parents, we need to focus on a few main things:

  1. Awareness. Stay on top of what your kids are looking at online, how they’re engaging with other people (you know…we used to call them “strangers”) online, and what the privacy settings they use really mean for them and their future. This is especially important when the cyber-bullying issues comes into play. It might be really helpful to have a Facebook account to stay close to what’s going on with your own child’s profile page.
  2. Transparency. Some parents may not feel comfortable asking their kids to disclose their passwords – while others (like me) think that after 22 hours of labor, we’re entitled to those passwords, so hand ‘em over, kid. Whichever approach you choose, you need to be clear with your kids on what the expectations are, where the line is drawn, and what the consequences are for abusing their social media privileges. And follow through on those consequences!
  3. Honesty. If your kids have issues they’re discussing with everyone else except you, something isn’t right. One of the best ways to establish communication with your tween or teen is by letting them know that you’re the first point of contact – no matter what. If you can present an open and accepting ear, they’re more likely to come to you about issues (and less likely to go to Myspace…ick).

Limits. Oh, limits. You may not think so, but kids love them. Oh, they grumble and whine about turning off the cellphone, but your kid may not have the self-control to establish his or her limits yet and this is your job. So be a drill sergeant about ditching the iPhone at dinner. Refuse to accept rude or ugly language in your child’s Facebook posts. Take away privileges (or Androids, whatever works) when your child is caught Tweeting in class or texting behind the wheel. They may not now, but one day your child will “Like” your parenting skills.

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