Why Satisfying Is Not Often Smart

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 8.442% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

One of the best pieces of advice I received was, “The satisfying thing is usually not the smart thing.” And I think that’s exemplified in this father’s YouTube video to his daughter:

Summed up: Not-too-bright daughter writes whiny, friends-locked Facebook post about how her parents are lazy slave drivers before handing her laptop to her Dad for upgrades. Dad creates a fraught video explaining just what a callow, lazy jerk his daughter is before shooting her laptop with hollow-point bullets and explains that if she wants her own laptop from now on, she’s going to have to pay for it herself.
Some parents – a lot of them, actually – are calling him “Dad of the year.” And I understand why. Emotionally, this is cathartic, the kind of thing you’re tempted to do as a parent when your kids do stupid, disrespectful, and insulting things that stem from a lack of understanding about how good they have it. (Which all middle-class and up kids go through.)
This video is about what parents want to do, because it would be very very satisfying to see the look on your selfish daughter’s face when she realizes what a fucking bad idea it is to cross you.
But then you think, and go, “What am I really teaching here?” Note how the dad isn’t much better than his daughter – his daughter made a fool out of him on the Internet, so he’s gonna hurt her even worse. He’s not teaching her that this sort of response is inappropriate – the lesson here is that if someone wounds you, and they’re in your control, the proper response is to hit back hard.
If you’re a good parent, you think about going dumb-ass off the handle like this…. And then you sit back and think about what you actually want to teach the kid: work matters. And there’s a lot of overlap between what you do to teach “work matters” and what Sad Dad here does – if the kid’s actually that bad, then you actually do most of what the guy does in the end: you take away the computer, you explain that if you really think you have it that bad then it’s time for you to pay for more things, maybe you have her write a letter of apology to that so-called “cleaning lady.”
But when you’re punishing, you keep in mind that your child’s main fault is that she’s immature – and to teach her maturity, you have to model the correct behavior. You have to be unemotional, rational, and responsive… and not to get in front of the Internet, nearly sobbing with rage, and tell everybody, “LOOK HOW MUCH YOU HURT ME, KID, WHAT AN INCONSIDERATE CUNT YOU ARE!” when your original complaint was that she was bitching to her friends and making you look bad.
Sure, I guess it could teach her how awful this feels when the shoe’s on the other foot. In reality, one suspects it teaches her that she just needs to learn how to bitch better, because in the end, the person who freaks out with the more sympathetic position will win. He’s not teaching her to be a better person, he’s teaching her to be more sophisticated in her approach. If the kid gets Facebook again, will she hide it better? If the kid has any sort of emotional reaction, will she keep it from her Dad? You bet your ass she will.
What the Dad did was what parents everywhere are tempted to do, because it would be very satisfying. But my wife has already discussed why the dad’s reaction is disproportionate, and that’s why what’s satisfying is not smart. What he’s doing is escalating in a war of control, achieving victory but not actually changing any minds.  I find it hard to believe that the daughter will feel bad about what she did, she’ll just feel bad about what the consequences were.
I think for all the parents cheering, most of them will come to the conclusion that this is awesome to watch, but not so much to actually do.  Which is correct.

5 Comments

  1. Kellie Lynch
    Feb 13, 2012

    A friend of mine was really disturbed by the video because Sad Dad uses a gun–a deadly weapon–to make his point. I still can’t decide how I feel about that. Guns sure do freak me out, but I know they’re commonplace in a lot of homes. It’s impossible for any of us to say for sure what goes on in that home, and whether the daughter is fearing for her life, or just annoyed about her laptop.
    But regardless of what happened after the rant, the video demonstrates a huge lack of emotional maturity. Sad Dad is basically waving his dick around in front of a bunch of kids, most of whom probably don’t even know him. They’re not his peers, and he has no reason to need to get in the last word; his daughter’s rant wasn’t going to hurt him socially or professionally. He should have said exactly what he said TO HER FACE and taken away the laptop. There is no need for a conflict between parent and child to be resolved so noisily and publicly.

    • TheFerrett
      Feb 13, 2012

      Pretty much where I stand, yes. He’s posted an update where he’s saying he’s a little thrown back by the media attention, but that’s what happens when you go on the Internet. Though I do appreciate his willingness to let his daughter make a rebuttal video.

  2. Danielle
    Feb 13, 2012

    Thank you for this. I hated seeing this all over my facebook feed for the last few days but as I am not a parent, I didn’t feel quite ready to step into the fray. This, though, totally summarizes my feelings on the Sad Dad video.

    • TheFerrett
      Feb 13, 2012

      You don’t really need to be a parent to comment. Sometimes, you can just have been a kid. 🙂

      • Danielle
        Feb 13, 2012

        That’s fair – but I feel like a lot of people are using this discussion to affirm that parents are right, and children need to be taught lessons. Therefore, I feel ill-equipped to respond since I’m not a parent (and therefore not a teacher). Does that make sense?

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