My mom watches "Dr. Phil." My grandma watches "Dr. Phil." But, frankly, I find him cringe-worthy. I tend to refer to him as "the walrus."
The reason why I'm singling him out right now is because of a recent show of his where he was hugely perpetuating heteronormativity. In this episode, a mother asked something like "hey, my 5-year old like barbies. I'm concerned, what should i do?"
Well, Mr. Phil (I'm not okay with giving him Dr.) recommended that she take away the barbies and replace them with boy-toys to avoid "confusion." First of all, a five year old boy is playing with dolls, it doesn't mean he's gay. And even if it did...why the hell is that a bad thing? Being gay is not being "confused," you moron.
Here's what he said, from http://blogout.justout.com/?p=27259:
“There are developmental stages in kids and it is not unusual, particularly for young boys, to experiment and get stuck on certain stimulus items,” says Dr. Phil. Particularly because the little boy has two older sisters, he says, it’s not unusual.
“This is not a precursor to your son being gay,” explains Dr. Phil. He’ll know that in time, but this is not an indication of his sexual orientation.
Dr. Phil tells Robby that she has a job to do: “Direct your son in an unconfusing way. Don’t buy him Barbie dolls or girl’s clothes. You don’t want to do things that seem to support the confusion at this stage of the game … Take the girl things away, and buy him boy toys.”
Most importantly, he tells Robby, “Support him in what he’s doing, but not in the girl things.”
“And if your son is gay,” Dr. Phil continues, “he’ll learn that when he passes puberty and gets into a lifestyle and determines what his orientation is, and his lifestyle will flow from that. It won’t be a choice; it will be something that he’s pre-wired to do, and he’ll know that in plenty of time if he’s an adult. But you shouldn’t take this as an indication of that at this point.”
This whole thing throws me off at the last paragraph. He agrees that homosexuality is not a learned behavior, but he stills refers to fostering a child's own creation of identity, through playing, as creating "confusion." Uh, what?
Another article slam's Mr. Phil's advice, saying:
Child psychologist Sally-Anne McCormack, from www.parentsonline.com.au, said she would have no concerns with boys playing with stereotypical "girls' toys''.
"At that age, children are still exploring their world and that includes gender roles. It's about learning," she said.
"Being exposed to a variety of different toys promotes creativity and free play, and should be celebrated.''
A lot of his so-called advice is "just suck it up" or "get real." Well sir, there are things that just don't work like that. When it comes to teenagers that are acting out, there's more to helping them then sending them to boot camp and saying that they're awful people. Your method of "pointing out the obvious" is flawed in several ways. You over-simplify emotions and circumstances, and you very rarely take the individual into account. If you were actually a clinical psychologist, you would know that.
Mr. Phil also gives conflicting advice. In a article, titled "An Analysis of Dr. Phil's Advice About Relationships," from the Journal of Couple and Relationship Theory (citation at the bottom of the post), the authors describe how Mr. Phil encourages equal and respectful relationships, but he also helps to perpetuate gender role stereotypes which only create larger divides in relationships.
He also likes to put a lot of blame on modern technology and the horror of being a two-income family. It's true that parenting was more active when one parent, usually the mother, was home taking care of the kids. But I don't ever want to go back to the days where that was the norm. I think women, mothers or not, should have the opportunity to work outside the home if they choose. I don't think it's right for any parent's life to just end the moment they have kids. Here's an excerpt from a article in Biography (citation at the end of this post):
(he had just blamed the media and the glamorization of sex and drugs and whatnot for teenagers going bad)
BIOGRAPHY: So it's the multimedia's fault?
DR. PHIL: It is not just the presence of that. It is also the absence of something else. Parents are more absent than they ever have been. There is a lack of active, involved parenting. We are now a 70% double-income society. Part of the problem is that we choose lifestyles that require two incomes, and so there is an absence of both parents from the home. It's also that when those parents do come home, they are tired so they sit comatose and watch television and don't know what is happening in their kids' rooms or on the Internet."
Also, Mr. Phil, just about every lifestyle, unless one spouse is in a very high-paying job, requires two incomes. Secondly, I don't think parents should be like hawks. I'm not a parent, but I know if I were a child whose parents were watching my every action I would only get better at keeping secrets and lying. Parents have to teach their kids right from wrong, but also give them some room for exploration. Teach your kids enough that you can trust them to do what you think is right. Encourage questions. If it makes sense to them, they;ll follow what you're saying. They'll figure it out, and if they need help, be open enough so that they come to you to ask questions. That's what active parenting is to me, not exhausting yourself with monitoring everything they do.
But I'm not a parent, so take that how you will.
As for Mr. Phil, his license for independent practice was revoked in 1989 after he was found to be having a relationship with an employee. But no one's perfect...though I think his show should come right out and say that he hasn't been active in that world since 1989.
I don't doubt that he's helped some people. But I don't agree with how he's doing it.
His show, like many other shows, is more about exploiting people than it is about helping them. And we watch because we like seeing that our families are normal compared to others. It's comforting to know that, although things may be bad, they're not that bad. It's ridiculous. Do you really think you're helping your teenager by forcing them to go talk to Mr. Phil in front of the whole country? I'm not okay with it.
Mr. Phil is by no means the only person with this kind of show. They're everywhere. Why? Because so many people watch them and marvel at the suffering of others. We're a pretty sadistic country. How else could you explain the popularity of things like Maury or Jerry Springer?
So, how do you feel about Mr. Phil? Are there any other prescriptive TV shows that you just can't stand?
The articles I mentioned earlier:
James Banning, et al. "An Analysis of Dr. Phil's Advice About Relationships." Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy 10.1 (2011): 53-68. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 2 Mar. 2011.
McGraw, Phil, and Wes Smith. "The Doctor Is In: A Revealing Chat With Phil McGraw." Biography 7.7 (2003): 44. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 2 Mar. 2011.