Mom Demands Money for Rent and Food From Misbehaving Teen—But Is it Ethical?

Social media is still buzzing about a "tough love" letter this mom posted to Facebook nearly a decade ago. As the debate over what she did continues to rage, ask yourself: Was she right or wrong?

Call it the forever-viral Facebook post. Back in 2015, Heidi Johnson penned a letter to her son Aaron, then 13, because she was unhappy with the way he was acting and wanted to give him what she saw as a reality check. Teenagers, of course, can be naturally rebellious as they test boundaries and gain independence from their caregivers. But when Heidi posted it to Facebook, she invited the world to weigh in. Her post is still making the rounds years later, grabbing headlines and dividing the web.

Here it is, excerpted:

"Dear Aaron, since you seem to have forgotten you are only 13, and I'm the parent," Johnson begins, "I guess you will need a lesson in independence. Also, as you threw in my face that you are making money now, it will be easier to buy back all the items I bought for you in the past."

Johnson then goes on to tell her son that he will need to start contributing to the household expenses, paying his share of the rent ($430), electricity ($116), Internet ($21), and food ($150) every month.

An image of a grandmother and granddaughter hugging.
Getty Images.

"Also, you will need to empty the trash Mon., Wed., and Friday, as well as sweep & vacuum those days," she wrote.

Johnson then added bathroom cleanings and meal prep to her son's to-do list, and told him he needed to tidy up after himself.

"If you fail to do so, I will charge you a $30 maid fee for every day I have to do it," she went on. "If you decide you would rather be my child again instead of [a] roommate, we can negotiate terms."

In a follow-up note written soon afterward, Johnson explained that she'd only meant to show the letter to friends, but had accidentally made it public. She remained steadfast in her views, however. "It's out there, and I am not ashamed of what I wrote," she affirmed.

Johnson said she knew that teens often pushed their boundaries, but there had to be limits. "He will be a legal adult in roughly four years," she wrote. "I cannot send this child into college or the workforce with the attitude of 'I'll get to it when I get to it' when a superior tells him to get a job done."

She emphasized that she and her son remained close, despite what some assumed.

"This hasn't hurt our relationship," Johnson shared. "He and I still talk as openly as ever. He has apologized multiple times."

Years later, people still comment on the original post, with many of them applauding her efforts.

"I absolutely love this, and I agree that tough love should be used as a tool when needed," one person wrote.

Another said, "You go, mom. Teach him something before someone does, and I promise him this: It won't be so nice."

A third cheered, "Kudos to you momma!"

But not everyone was into it.

"Does your kid even talk to you anymore?" one person queried. To which Aaron himself responded: "Funnily enough, I do still talk to my mom."

Some commenters were concerned about the letter's psychological effects.

"While I do not know everything about this situation, this method of 'teaching your child a lesson' can be very harmful to the child and their relationship with their parent," one person wrote. "In essence, this letter is telling the child that if they do not comply [with] the demands of their parent, they will not be provided shelter, food, and are essentially in debt for their parents choosing to have and raise them."

Aaron jumped to his mother's defense. "My mom and I have a great relationship. I hold nothing against her," he replied, acknowledging that his 13-year-old self was pretty tough to deal with.

It appears that everything has turned out well between Johnson and her (now admittedly more mature) adult son. Every parent-child relationship is different, though—and most experts tend to recommend against airing issues with your children on social media.

If this type of parenting strategy doesn't appeal to you, but you still need to help your teenager through a trying phase, follow these expert tips:

  • Go to the source. Instead of punishing your child, try to figure out what's causing their rebellion. They may be acting out because they are being bullied in school, or going through a period of change or personal crisis. Therapy could help them more than grounding them would.
  • Avoid micromanaging them. It's understandable to want to rein in your teen's demands for independence, or wish away their difficult emotions. But sometimes, giving them a little of the freedom they crave (while monitoring from a distance) allows them the chance to grow.
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