"Ashley's friends are calling me a stalker and [saying] that I'm psycho. There would be times that I would actually pretend to be Ashley and talk to her friends," says Ashley's mom, Janet. "I tell Ashley that when she is a mother of teenage children, only then will she realize what I'm doing," she says..
"My mom basically messages everybody I talk to," Ashley says. She complains that if she tells her mom something, her mom will ask her friends about it. "With my new boyfriend, my mom would embarrass me, comment on his pictures on MySpace. If I was in a fight with one of my friends, she would message them, and it'd just make things worse. She always snoops around my room, and reads my diary and stuff."
Janet says that she's witnessed disturbing things on social networking sites, and she's not about to let Ashley get into trouble. "When I saw some of the things that Ashley's friends were posting I was pretty horrified. I saw girls in their bras, girls in their bikinis, taking showers with each other, girls kissing each other, girls posting things about teachers and bullying other girls. When I started seeing Ashley doing some of these things, I told her, 'I'm not going to put up with this.'"
She continues, "I'm just protecting her, and trying to watch out for her and steer her in the right direction."
Ashley isn't the only one who has issues with Janet. Her friends have also run into Ashley's mom online, so often that they say she's a stalker. Here are a few of their sentiments:
"It's just strange that her mom was messaging me on MySpace. It made me angry, but I was more, like, weirded out about it."
"Ashley's mom impersonating her really invades her privacy."
"I viewed it as abuse."
"Oh, If my parents did that to me I would be horrified."
"If my parents did this to me, I'd be pretty upset."
"Oh yeah, I consider this stalking."
Dr. Phil turns to Ashley. "Do you think you've been violated here?" he asks.
"Yeah, I have," she says. "It just seems like she doesn't need to be involved that much. Like, that's my personal life, and she needs to just back off."
"Is this kind of like a parent getting a diary and reading it?" asks Dr. Phil.
"Yeah, it is like a diary because, like, that's, like, my site, my messages, not hers," says Ashley.
"But are you out there running red lights?" he asks. "Are you out there doing things you shouldn't do, either sexually, or just conduct-wise or otherwise that make you somebody who needs to be monitored?"
"I don't do stuff like that," says Ashley. "I mean, I'm a pretty basically good kid and get good grades."
"So what's the problem, Mom?" Dr. Phil asks Janet. "What's got you so energized that you're actually impersonating your daughter on the Web site?"
Janet contends that she only impersonates Ashley when she's grounded from the site, and only then to pass Ashley's comments along to her. Janet doesn't allow her daughter on social networking sites at all unless she has her password, and she admits that she doesn't allow her any privacy on them.
"What gives you the right to infringe in that way?" Dr. Phil asks Janet.
"Because I'm her parent, and she's underage," says Janet. "She's only 17. When she becomes an adult, I think I need to break away and let her have her freedom, more freedom than what I'm letting her have." She checks Ashley's sites four or five times a day.
"She checks it more than I do," says Ashley. "And she won't tell me when I get new comments. I just have to figure it out myself."
"But I check too to see what she's doing, to see what she's saying," says Janet. "A lot of her friends will get on there, like, and say " like they're swearing. They start talking about teachers. When she was in her middle school years there was a lot of stuff going on about teachers, and I told her, 'You cannot talk about teachers and say things, because you're responsible for what you say, and you can be charged for slander.'"
Ashley's friend, Jenny, joins the conversation by phone.
Dr. Phil asks Jenny, "How do you view things with Ashley's mother, Janet, getting involved?"
"I think that it's really a bit over the top for her mom to be online as well as in her room all the time," she replies. "I think that she should at least let Ashley have some ounce of privacy. If she is going to be stealing her phone and texting people, and just reading her diary, there needs to be a place to draw the line."
"So, do you get messages from Mom?" asks Dr. Phil.
"Well, I have gotten things like friend requests," she says, "which means that she has access to all of my stuff now, and I've been sent pictures of Ashley that have been, like, PhotoShopped with Santa hats on them, just really weird things that I wouldn't expect to get."
Dr. Phil asks, "How do you feel about that when it happens?"
"I feel embarrassed for Ashley," says Jenny. "I kind of tease her about it sometimes, but that's such an embarrassing thing, and it's horrible that she doesn't even have an online escape from her parents."
Dr. Phil turns to Janet. "Mom, what do you say? I mean, this is just Jenny's opinion. She's no expert; she's just giving her point of view," he says.
"Well, I've gone excessively where I shouldn't be invading her privacy as much as I am, and I guess I need help for that," she says. "It's hard for me to let go."
"You check her friends' pages to see what they're doing," says Dr. Phil. "So you're getting on Jenny's page, or somebody else's page, and seeing what they're doing, and you call the principal if you see something you don't like."
"Well, I've done that for kids who are saying things about teachers and that," says Janet.
"Well, why don't you just put a 'kick me' sign on her and send her to school?" Dr. Phil asks. "I mean, come on. Listen, I think common sense is not near common enough anymore. I mean, don't we have to think about this from a common sense standpoint, and say," turning to Ashley, "look, you have responsibilities to conduct yourself like a lady, and trust me, once it's on the Internet it is out there forever. There are so many people who have lost jobs, not been admitted to college because of pictures they've put on the Internet. If you don't think college recruiters and job recruiters don't go to these places and Google you, and pull you up and see what's going on, they do." Turning back to Janet he continues, "And you've got to have some common sense on your side. Do you not think that you are creating resentment here?"
"Oh yeah," she says. "I am. I am."
The conflicts between this mother and daughter have even come to blows.
"She punched me and gave me a black eye," says Janet.
"I didn't punch her," Ashley counters. "It was, like, a slap, because she was " "
"No, it was a punch, because I wouldn't have had a " "
"You were attacking me."
"No," says Janet.
"She was," says Ashley.
"No," Janet repeats. The two chuckle softly. "I went to go pull the covers off of her, and I went to pull her leg, and she started kicking me, and while she kicked me, I fell on the floor, and when I fell on the floor, I was very upset with her, so, I grabbed the nearest thing to me, which was her hair dryer."
Ashley says, "She threw a hair dryer at me."
"I threw a hair dryer," Janet admits. "She threw a big Harry Potter book at me." [AD]
The pair continue to debate the details of the fight. Ashley contends that her mother held her down on the ground by her hair and sat on her, Janet that she had to pull Ashley down because her daughter punched her. Janet claims to have pictures of the black eye that came from their altercation.
"She took pictures of her black eye, and she sent it to my friends," Ashley tells Dr. Phil.
"Let me get this right," Dr. Phil says to Janet. "You got a black eye in a physical altercation with your daughter, took a picture of it, and sent it to all of her friends."
"Not all of her friends," says Janet. Dr. Phil throws his head back in disbelief.
Dr. Phil plays a video snippet of Ashley and Janet expressing their frustrations with each other.
"I can't trust her," says Ashley, "because I feel if I tell her anything she'll just get involved and tell all my friends and, like, cause problems."
Janet wipes away tears as she says, "We used to be very, very close. And even when she was younger all her friends thought I was a cool mom, because I would take them places and do things with them. Now they all hate me."
When the video ends, Dr. Phil turns to Janet. "What do you think about that as you watch it?" he asks.
"Well, it hurts, because when she was younger, in middle school, we were close," she says. "And she just started getting on the Internet, and they have a thing, like, the [Instant Messengers] and that. One time she was on there, and these two girls pop on, and I told her, for one thing, if you don't know the person do not respond to them, but she did, and these girls were bullying her. And that's another thing about this Internet. These girls are getting bullied. They bully other girls. They get on there. They call them all kinds of names. They were calling her a slut and stuff like that."
"Let me ask you something," asks Dr. Phil. "Don't you think you're setting her up for some of that, if you're getting on with " you're mom with your black eye? Aren't you targeting her? You're not helping the situation in that regard."
"I don't know how to stop it," says Janet, "and I want to stop."
Dr. Phil surprises the mother and daughter by asking them to switch seats. He then leans in close to Janet and says, "We need to talk." He looks her in the eye and continues, "You don't have a perfect daughter there. She's not perfect, and you're not a perfect mother."
"I'm far from perfect," says Janet.
"That kind of has a certain symmetry to it, doesn't it?" asks Dr. Phil. "She's not a perfect daughter. You're not a perfect mother. But the truth is, she's a pretty good egg. Is she heavy into drugs? Has she got two kids at home because she got pregnant at 14 or 15? No, no and no. You did not have a smooth trip through your adolescence, did you?"
"No, I didn't," says Janet.
"What was the worst thing that happened to you?" he asks.
Fighting back tears, Janet says, "I was sexually assaulted in my own house."
"And that changed you, didn't it?'
"Yes, it did," she tells him tearfully.
"And so now," says Dr. Phil, "you're trying to keep her like this." He cups his hands like he's holding a little bird. Turning to Ashley he asks, "Do you get where that's coming from?" She nods, as he continues, "This isn't just, 'Let's see how miserable I can make my daughter.' It's coming from a position of pain with your mom. Do you understand that?"
"I understand her taking care of me and watching me," says Ashley, "but it's just gotten way too over the top. At first it was all right."
"I totally agree," says Dr. Phil. Turning to Janet, he says, "But do you recognize that you need to trust her enough that you give those passwords back and you let her conduct herself with some degree of privacy? You need to be smart about that, and you need to trust her enough. She deserves that."
"Yeah," says Janet, "because I'm losing her."
"You are losing her," says Dr. Phil.
Dr. Phil tells Janet and Ashley that he has made arrangements for them to receive help. He offers Ashley the help of Dr. Michael Schneider, who specializes in teen/family relationships. Janet will receive a full scholarship for The Living Centered Program at Onsite Workshops in Nashville, Tennessee. "It is a great program that will really help you kind of decide where boundaries need to be as a parent, heal things within you that you need to do, and give you the tools to heal this relationship between the two of you," he says.
Ashley and Janet agree to participate.