Anti-Social Networking: Melanie, Alyssa

Distracted Mom

Alyssa, 16, says her mom, Melanie, is out of control with texting and Facebook. Alyssa shoots some home video of her mother texting and driving. "Dr. Phil, this is what I have to put up with every time we get in the car together," she says. She tells her mom, "Keep your eyes on the road."

"I am, Alyssa. Don't tell me how to drive," Melanie says.

"I am sick and tired of the amount of time my mom spends on her phone, texting, or on Facebook. When we're at home or in the car, she has the need to get on her phone. Sometimes, I feel like her phone is more important to her than my brother or my sister. She's on Facebook about 90 percent of the time. There have been times when we've swerved off the road to the other lane," Alyssa says. "I need your help to get her to realize that what she's doing is wrong."

 

Dr. Phil clarifies that the home footage of Melanie texting and driving was documented by her daughter and was not encouraged, staged or set up by the show. "I would never ask you to do that for any reason whatsoever," he says to Melanie. "It seems like we've got the tail wagging the dog here. Isn't it the moms who are supposed to be telling the kids they're texting too much and getting too involved with video games, and computers and texting?"

[AD]"Honestly, to see it that way and to see myself that way, it doesn't feel good," Melanie admits. "I don't know why I do that while I'm driving. There is no good reason for it. I feel horrible. I feel like a bad parent."

"You can feel guilty about that in a minute " and I'll help you do that," Dr. Phil jokes, "but in the meantime, let's deconstruct this for a minute. Who are you talking to right there? What is so important that it can't wait? It's obviously raining. You've got the wipers going, so the roads are slick. You're driving at what looks like a pretty good pace, at least 25, 30 miles-per-hour or more, and you're texting. Who are you talking to?"

"I think I was on Facebook, actually, just then," she says.

Dr. Phil asks for an example of what she posts on Facebook.

"I think that was making arrangements for that evening's plans," she says.

"And, I assume that was a major event?" he asks.

"To me, it was," she says with a laugh.

"Not really," Alyssa says. She says her mom feels compelled to respond to every text, even trivial ones that read, Have a nice day. Melanie agrees.

"I wonder what they'd say if you texted back, ‘Well, I was having a good day, but now I'm breaking the law, putting people's lives at risk and driving down the road with my hands off the wheel and my eyes off the road, but thanks for asking'?" Dr. Phil asks.

[AD]"That's a good point," Melanie says.

Dr. Phil points out that she's doing this with her 16-year-old and 7-year-old in the car. "So you strap them into a 5,000-pound missile with no guidance system?"

Melanie says she knows what she's doing is dangerous but also feels invincible. "I know what happens. I've heard stories of how it happens. I just don't feel like it's going to happen to me," she says.

Dr. Phil gives Melanie a reality check.

Dr. Phil says Melanie's Facebook habits are affecting her kids when she's not in the car as well. He plays a video clip of her 7-year-old daughter:

"She wakes up, and I see her on Facebook, and I'm like, why is she doing this?" the little girl asks. "Sometimes, she will ignore me when I'm talking to her. That makes me feel sad, because I'm trying to tell her something that might be important. I can't stand her doing it, so please help me."

Melanie is moved to tears. "It just breaks me heart. I love her. I had no idea that she felt like that. We've never spoken about that," she says.

"She's 7, and she feels like she's second fiddle to a computer screen," Dr. Phil says. "What's the payoff? Explain it to me."

"I have three children. I just feel like I'm very busy. I work a lot. I don't have time to go out and to socialize that much with everybody. That's my way of staying in touch with everybody," she explains. "It's like my only connection to the outside."

[AD]"And I get that, and I think that is a wonderful use of something like MySpace, or Facebook or e-mailing back and forth, but there comes a time where it starts to control you rather than you control it," Dr. Phil says. "It has become very habitual for you, right?"

"Very. It's the first thing I think about when I wake up," she says.

Dr. Phil recommends that Melanie learn to properly manage her hobby. To break a habit, she should replace it with a healthier one. "What I want you to put in its place is to interact with your kids, or go meet a friend for a movie or something," he says. Dr. Phil says she can still log on to Facebook, but she should set some limits with her time. "If you have to, put a timer there."

Melanie feels like she spends a lot of time with her children. She looks to Alyssa and asks, "Do you really feel like I don't?"

Alyssa says there are times when they ask for help, and her mom stalls for more time on the computer, and then when she finally logs off, they've figured out what they needed. Alyssa says her concern is for her younger sister. "She's the reason I'm here. She feels like you put your phone as number one, and she's somewhere farther down the list … I'm old enough to make the choice to get in the car with you when you do it, but if you need to go somewhere, she can't stay home by herself. She has to go. You can control her safety in the car, and you just choose not to. You just choose to get on that phone," she tells her mom.

Melanie nods and wipes her tears away. "I'm sorry," she tells her daughter.

[AD]Dr. Phil tells her she doesn't have to quit her phone and computer time, she just has to be more disciplined about it. "Require yourself to put a limit [on it] and to invest that same time with your kids. If you do that for me for a week, it'll change your pattern," he says.

Melanie vows she'll do it and report back to Dr. Phil. He asks her to send him a note through the snail mail, not through Facebook.