Saturday, October 20, 2018

The Dangers of Cowboy Parenting

The Lessons a Laptop Shooting Parent Can Teach Us

Have you heard about the one where the father shoots up the computer like a cowboy shoots up a saloon? While it might seem like a Wild West justice system, a father from California is either being hailed a hero for teaching his daughter a lesson or a criminal for verbally abusing and threatening his teenage daughter. And just like the Wild West days where it sometimes seemed hard to tell if the punishment fit the crime and where guns were used as mouthpieces, the video this father posted on YouTube is sparking a debate about parenting teenagers in what seems to me to be cowboy parenting.

The background to the video is a rebellious 15 year old who wrote a disrespectful letter about her parents and shared it online. The cowboy, err – father, responded by posting a rebuttal that ended with him shooting her laptop with a handgun. Listening to the contents of the letter written by the teen made me cringe. I have my own daughter near that age and I would be heartbroken and infuriated at the same time if she had those feelings and made them known to the world in an effort to drive the pain home. I also know that my own teenage daughter would be forever changed if I took the same actions as that father, and not for the better.

I understand the frustration that can build when children just don’t seem to understand, and I share the sentiment that children today seem to carry an air of entitlement, selfishness, and resentment that wasn’t as prevalent in past decades. However, I also have to wonder: what are the dangers of cowboy parenting?

What is cowboy parenting?

Maybe it was the cowboy hat or the dwindling smoke of his cigarette, or even just that I watched too many westerns with my father as a child or heard stories of my great-great uncle riding as a real cowboy, but this video conjures up everything that to me epitomizes cowboy parenting.

  • Cowboys had to be tough to survive. So do parents of teenagers.
  • Cowboys often used force to get their way. So do some parents.
  • Cowboys could be unpredictable. Again…parents.
  • Cowboys created and lived by their own rules, often on the fringe of acceptance.
  • Cowboys lived by a code of honor that demanded respect, gave it sparingly, and relied on actions instead of words.

Cowboy parenting is having a clear end goal (instead of driving the cattle to market, it is raising the children to adulthood), and using rugged approaches to reach the goal, often with disregard for following social rules but with an air of superiority and might. I don’t want to offend any cowboys here with my stereotyping – like I said – I’m going off of childhood westerns and family history stories. It is simply the image I keep getting in my mind when I think of dramatic parenting types such as that of the laptop assassin.

What does cowboy parenting teach children?

We don’t know for certain what events led to this situation, and there were most likely many precipitating actions and reactions that led to the public display. This child might very well have learned to never again post public rants online or disrespect her parents’ rules and guidelines. The other possibilities are the ones that ones that worry me as a parent. Several themes keep coming to mind when I ask myself the question of what this father’s reaction might have taught his child.

  • React to an unloving action by “one-upping” that action.
  • Mocking people we love is effective and acceptable to prove our point.
  • Solve problems with might, force, and aggression.
  • Publically humiliate others in order to get their attention and achieve results.

What other alternatives are there to the tough love of cowboy parenting?

While we don’t know for certain what other methods have been tried in the past, this father did speak of grounding and removing technology privileges (which obviously didn’t do the trick). It is easy to be an armchair quarterback and pass judgments from the sidelines, but this particular incident has touched a nerve among parents and children. Like so many other parents, I have tried to put myself in this father’s position and ask myself would could have been done better.

He claims the problem is she is selfish, which might very well be the case. Take the laptop and the child and have her deliver it to a child who needs one for school but doesn’t have parents to buy one for her. Give the laptop to a child with a parent in the military so that he or she can Skype with a mom or dad who serves overseas. The list of possible ways for the daughter to lose her laptop but give to someone else goes on and on. By giving the daughter a different perspective he could have had the same end result of no laptop in the house, but with an entirely different message.

He was understandably upset about his daughter’s lack of respect of the adults in her life. Respect is not taught by demanding it with tough love. True respect is earned through loving actions, and yes – discipline can be a loving action when used in effective ways.

He was upset about her public humiliation of him, so he proved his point by doing the same in return to her – an eye for an eye – and he more than succeeded his point. The entire world was never aware of her initial rant, but we are all privy to the disagreement now. If you want to teach children how to treat others, leading by example will far outsmart stooping to their levels for true and honest long-term results.

What is the cost of cowboy parenting?

This California daughter might not ever post another status update in her life, or publically humiliate her parents online. She is a teenager, though, and she will most likely make more mistakes, conceivably much worse than airing a selfish complaint letter on a social media site. What happens if she experiments with and starts using drugs? Becomes pregnant? Crashes her mom’s new car? Gets in trouble at school? Commits a crime?

The list of possible teenager mistakes, trials, and misjudgments is long and full of emotion and turmoil. If you as a parent have just set the bar for an online rant as the one in this case, how are you going to discipline your child and redirect her on a better path if you are acting as a cowboy parent? Maybe it is time to put the gun in the holster, get off the horse, and have a long sip of water from the well. Parenting teens is exhaustingly tough. We need to do it with a cool head, a kind heart, and a goal to teach our children to be better. It begins with our actions – not theirs.

Related posts:

  1. Do You Have a Parenting Plan?
  2. Attachment Parenting and the Adolescent Child
  3. What’s Your Parenting Style

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