“Meltdown.” It’s a powerful term, and creates exceptionally vivid impressions! And that’s exactly why the media used it when describing Serena Williams’ angry response at yesterday’s Women’s Semi-Final of the US Open. Do you think it’s a fair choice of words? If someone hadn’t seen those crucial few determining minutes that ended the match so oddly, what images would “meltdown” foster?
Didn’t see the end of the match? Check out the Serena Williams US Open incident on Youtube, and decide for yourself.
What I observe is a heated exchange, but hardly a meltdown!
Words designed to grab your attention
If you think the media doesn’t carefully select words to get your attention and masterfully manipulate your reactions, you’re sorely mistaken.
At the very least, the sole purpose of heated headlines and zippy phrases is to grab you and hook you so you read! Think about it. Meltdown suggests the overheating of a nuclear core, an explosive reaction of catastrophic consequences. Well – considering the outcome – the incident itself may not qualify as a meltdown, but the consequences were clearly catastrophic for Serena!
Have you ever had a so-called meltdown with one of your kids? Did you call it that? Did they? Or was it an episode of falling apart, momentarily, under the strain of despair or anger?
It happens to all of us, and we feel terrible afterward, certain that we’ve traumatized our children (if they’re young), or alienated our teenagers, or at the very least, set a bad example.
If the “meltdown” included violence, then in my book it’s an appropriate term for an outburst, and more than an apology is required! Physical violence is never an answer in parenting. But for most of us – meltdown is not the most accurate term, and sometimes we use a word that plants subtle messages about behavior that aren’t accurate. Without realizing it, we turn an emotional incident of sorrow, frustration, or upset into something much more serious and less human than it really is.
(A little dose of adolescence in an adult body, perhaps?)
And Serena – she’s only human, isn’t she? A foot fault at that moment?
There have been times when I’ve yelled out of frustration or fatigue in front of my kids. And I immediately wish I hadn’t. Generally, it’s a response originating in stress or worry. When I regain my composure, I take a deep breath, apologize, and explain in a more measured way what I’m feeling and why whatever happened is upsetting or unacceptable.
With 8+ years of parenting solo, we’ve had our share of these moments. Not my finest (not my kids’ finest, when they do it) – but isn’t this just being human? Is it really so bad, if it’s not a routine occurrence? Shouldn’t kids see that negative feelings are natural and to be expressed, let out, and not with violence? In fact, isn’t it instructive for them to see anger return to self-control?
But when we do express these emotions, it makes a strong impression on children, and calls for using the right words to explain the outburst afterward. “Meltdown” or “freak out” or any number of other overly dramatic terms are not the words to use!
Expressing emotions accurately
Was Serena understandably upset? Did it result in an outburst of angry emotion that was unsportsmanlike? Probably. But also understandable under the extreme circumstances and stress.
Is every form of media competing for our attention? Of course – and we know that headlines will remain one very effective means of securing our readership.
And moments of upset with your kids? When they’ve occurred around here, I try to be very specific in subsequent explanations: “I was upset because… ” and “I’m sorry that I yelled because… but… ” Then I clearly point out the actions that triggered my reaction, and any involvement they may have played in the incident.
My conclusion? Let’s save theatrical terminology for the headlines, if we must. But for our kids’ sake, let’s call it like it is – and that includes labeling our emotions, and theirs, without undue drama.
- When you lose your cool with your loved ones, how do you handle it afterward?
- As for Serena’s reaction and the officials, what do you think of the behavior on both sides?