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Stephen Balkam Headshot

They Shoot Laptops, Don't They?

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First we had revengeful dad Tommy Jordan, who in response to his teen daughter's offensive video posting on Facebook, created a video of his own to "teach her a lesson." After speaking directly to the camera (and to his daugher's followers), he turned the camera toward the laptop lying prone on the ground and, following a close-up of his .45, summarily shot it.

Now we have Ohio mom Denise Abbot taking matters -- and her daughter Ava's Facebook profile -- into her own hands. Fed up with her 13- year-old's rudeness and disrespect, Mrs. Abbot, who must have had her daughter's password, slapped a red and white "X" across Ava's mouth with the line, "I do not know how to keep my... I am no longer allowed on Facebook or my phone. Please ask why, my mom says I have to answer everyone that asks."

Do these two high-profile cases mark a trend? I hope not. Denise Abbot got a 77 percent approval rating from a Today.com poll for her actions. I'd have to count myself as one of the 23 percent. Firstly, it is good parenting to friend your child on social networking sites like Facebook, particularly when they first go on, typically at 13. Keeping in regular contact, both verbally and virtually, goes a long way to building trust and keeping open lines of communication between teen and parent.

But to go on to your child's Facebook account (without their consent) to post a comment or to put the equivalent of a scarlet letter on their profile is crossing a line. What, exactly, did Denise teach Ava? That it is okay to hack someone's account and put a first person statement across a picture while visually gagging her. Would it be acceptable for Ava to do the same to a friend at school who disrespects her? Why not? Mom did. News reports suggest that Ava is fine with her "punishment" and wonders what all the fuss is about. It's about not shaming or humiliating another person online for all the world to see. Just like Tommy, who called to congratulate Denise for her actions, Mrs. Abbot missed a teachable moment.

A parent, in these circumstances, has every right to warn their child that their rudeness and disrespect will result in consequences for their behavior. The trick is to find redress that is both reasonable and related to the kid's actions. In this case, losing her computer and phone privileges for a day or two along with a brief conversation about the need for mutual respect and kindness might have been a better approach. God knows, as a father of a teenage daughter, this is not easy. And the sequence of bad behavior, warning and consequence may have to be repeated on a regular basis until they leave for college. But it is a better way than using embarrassing and demeaning means to prove a point.

As Richard Bach wrote, "You teach best what you most need to learn." In this new and challenging digital age of parenting, we all need to teach and learn reasonable and respectful means of dealing with our kids and each other on and offline.

(Disclosure: My organization, the Family Online Safety Institute, receives funding from Facebook, Google, Microsoft and a number of other internet companies.)