Parenting is filled with hand-wringing, second-guessing and “what-if” quandaries. For example, “What if I let my teenage daughter have a party while I’m away?” and “What if I let my son drive all his friends to the concert this weekend?”
Or, in the case of Moreland, Ga., resident Deborah Smith, “What if I blow up my kids’ cellphones with a 12-gauge shotgun and post the carnage on YouTube?”
Two years ago, Smith, 57, became a viral celebrity by doing just that. And despite an eventual visit from the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services questioning her parenting skills, and sons who have had subsequent brushes with the law, Smith said she’d do it again in a heartbeat.
“I tried conventional methods to deal with their phone abuse, to no avail,” she said. “They were using a phone I paid for to do drug deals.”
The video concluded a family meeting, something Smith said are common in her house, which has, over the years, served as shelter for 45 troubled foster kids. Clad in a sleeveless gray T-shirt, Smith cocked her weapon and boldly proclaimed, “I hereby denounce the effects that social media have on my children. Their disobedience and disrespect.”
As her three legally adopted teens, McKenzie, Ethan and Robbie, looked on, Smith obliterated a phone, perched on a nearby tree stump, with a single blast. A fourth child, Josh, recorded the incident on his phone, eventually panning to Ethan, who responded by flipping the bird and screaming obscenities at Smith. Kids, a word of advice: That’s never a good idea when Mom is armed. And, as the video proves, an expert marksperson.
Undeterred, Smith continued. “I refuse to be cursed. I refuse to be disobeyed. I take back my role as your parent,” she screamed at the camera. A second blast destroyed a second phone. Switching to a sledgehammer, Smith sent shrapnel from the third phone flying through all parts of Coweta County.
Without Smith’s knowledge, Josh uploaded the video to YouTube where, after some initial trepidation, Smith approved the decision and laughed at the footage. Steven, her husband of 34 years, laughed as well. Meanwhile, media outlets couldn’t get enough. Some dubbed Smith “Southern Momma.” Smith and bird-flipping Ethan flew to California for an appearance on “The Robert Irvine Show.” Parents around the world wrote to Smith, gushing over her unorthodox mothering methods and revealing personal battles with their kids’ cellphone and social media habits. Smith admits the attention went to her head.
“I didn’t set out to do anything other than to prove my point, which is, you don’t use social media to act like an idiot,” she said. “And I acted like an idiot.”
Smith was referring to a second video, showing her obliterating the mattresses from the beds of Ethan and Robbie after they failed to come home.
“They’re out using drugs with their drug thug buddies,” said Smith, as she loaded the trusty 12-gauge.
That incident brought out DFCS, which temporarily removed all of Smith’s children while presenting her with a written “safety plan,” including a promise not to discharge weapons in front of her kids.
Citing her Second Amendment rights, Smith taped the plan to a TV set and, in a third video, shot it as well.
Despite her trigger-happy nature, Smith said the videos had positive effects on her children, although some continue to struggle.
Referring to McKenzie, now 19 and a Georgia college student, Smith said, “She’ll tell you that video changed her life because she learned Momma was serious. She straightened up her act. I’m very proud of her.”
Ethan, 18, was recently released from jail after serving nine months for breaking and entering. He performs lawn maintenance and, in Smith’s words, “kind of” lives with the family. But, since being released, he has chosen not to own a phone.
“He realizes he’s better off without it,” Smith said.
Robbie, also 18, is in jail after being convicted of stealing guns from his adopted uncle’s house. She hopes for the best when he returns.
“He had a lacrosse scholarship waiting for him,” Smith said.
Now battling breast cancer, Smith has put foster parenting on hold. But she still feels the videos were the right solution, a sentiment confirmed by none other than Ethan.
“He said, ‘I wish I would have listened,’” Smith said.