"The first time I caught our daughter sexting, she had taken a picture of herself in a bikini and sent it to a boyfriend," says Gwen.
Her husband, Mike, describes some of the inappropriate messages they discovered in their 12-year-old's phone: "'Do you really want to kiss?' 'Do you want to [expletive],'" he says. "We discussed this with her, and she acted as if this is just the way people talk now."
"This is one of the texts we found," Gwen says, holding up her child's phone. The message reads: "Send me a pic of U naked."
"For some reason, I know that I'm not supposed to do stuff, but I don't really seem to care," says their daughter, whose identity is not revealed.
[AD]"The next time we caught her sexting is when the school called us and said that an inappropriate picture had been passed around," Gwen says. "She was wearing a bra and panties, with her jeans around her ankles and with her legs spread apart."
"I was surprised at how provocative the picture was," Mike says.
"I guess I just do it to get attention," says the girl.
"We found a video on her phone where she was dressed up like a prostitute," Mike says, visibly distraught. "It was very disturbing. I was shocked to see that it had gone that far."
"We're not going to show your daughter's face during this segment or at any time that I'm able to talk to her, and we're not going to use her name," Dr. Phil assures Mike and Gwen. "I don't want to do anything to draw more attention to her as an individual, but I do want to talk about what I think is a dangerous thing for her to be doing and a dangerous thing that a lot of teens are doing."
Dr. Phil turns to Mike. "What do you think is going on here?" he asks.
"It's very disturbing. I've got a 12-year-old "" Mike lowers his head, suppressing a sob. "The things that she's doing are just unacceptable, even for an 18-year-old to do those things. The way that she speaks, the way that she dresses, the things that she says on the texting, it's got me lost. I talk to her about it. I don't know how to control it. I take the phone away; she earns it back. I find it again, over and over. I'm at a loss. We've tried so many different things to stop it."
[AD]Gwen shares her thoughts. "Now that she's got the cell phone, it makes her feel good about herself that boys are all of a sudden giving her attention," she tells Dr. Phil. "When they ask her to do these things " send pictures of [herself] or text that way " if it's giving her attention and making her feel good about herself, then that's what she's doing."
Dr. Phil shows a list on the large monitor of the inappropriate messages sent and received by the pre-teen. "'I want to [expletive] you. Send me a pic of U naked. R U sure U want 2 kiss? It's called want to go [expletive],'" he reads. "They sound sexual in nature. Do you think it is sexually motivated, or do you think it's attention-getting and doesn't have any thing to do with sex?"
"I think it's attention-getting," Gwen responds. "She has had low self-esteem from the time she was little."
[AD]"What reaction has she had from the kids?" Dr. Phil asks.
"They call her bad names. They call her a slut. They call her a whore. It does not give her what she wants," Gwen answers.
"What does she say to you when you confront her about this?"
"A lot of times, she just says, 'Oh, that's nothing.' 'It doesn't mean what it looks like.' 'It's no big deal,'" Mike replies.
"She lies all the time. It's very difficult to understand," Gwen adds.
As Dr. Phil walks backstage to meet with Mike and Gwen's daughter, he points out the risks of sending explicit text messages. "What many of these kids don't realize is that it is a felony for children under age 18 to not only receive one of these pictures on the phone, but to take a photo and send it. It can lead to all kinds of pornography charges. This is serious."
He enters the green room where the 12-year-old waits and takes a seat across from her. "Do you know why y'all came here today?" he asks.
"The pictures and the texts that I've been sending and receiving," the girl replies.
"What do you think about that?"
[AD]"I think that the pictures that I sent, they're not right, but some of them are OK, because they're on my Facebook," says the soft-spoken child. "The other pictures that I sent, they were, like, unacceptable."
"You know the ones we're talking about? The ones where you're not fully dressed, the ones where you're in kind of a sexy pose," Dr. Phil clarifies. "You say you know those are unacceptable. Why are they unacceptable?"
"It shows too much of me, and it looks not appropriate," she replies. "It's illegal, and it's too much and you shouldn't, like, be sending stuff like that when you're younger."
"Why did you do that if you knew it wasn't OK?" Dr. Phil asks the preteen.
"Because my friend wanted me too."
"You could have said, 'Oh, my gosh. I'm not going to do that. People might see them and think bad things about me,'" Dr. Phil says. "Do you have the ability to tell your friend no?"
"I think that my friend, like a lot of my friends, has a big mouth, and they like to use it a lot," she answers. "They would probably say something about me, and I'd probably lose that friend."
[AD]"Are you afraid that somebody might look at those pictures and think you're a bad girl?"
"Well, people said that about me in second grade."
Dr. Phil warns the girl about the risks of having explicit photos or videos floating in cyberspace. "Once that picture's out there, you have no control over it," he says. "Somebody can come by and pick that phone up, forward that [picture] to somebody else. If you weren't involved in it, then it wouldn't be out there. They can't take the picture without you."
Dr. Phil rejoins Gwen and Mike onstage.
"What did you think about our conversation?" he asks.
"It was typical. When she said, 'I didn't take the picture,' I expected her to say that," Gwen replies. "I think she was fairly honest."
Dr. Phil gives the parents his impressions of their child. "First off, in so many ways, you have absolutely hit the daughter lottery. What a beautiful little girl," he says.
Gwen smiles through her tears.
"She has a warmth about her, and a vulnerability about her, that is so good. There's so much right here," Dr. Phil says. "On the problem side of the issue, her self-esteem is really, really damaged. Her ego strength is so low that she doesn't even consider that she can say no."
"That's what we've seen. From the time she was little, things just progressively got worse, and worse and worse," Gwen says. "The next step is to be sexually active."
"I truly believe that she has some neurological involvement here," Dr. Phil says. "I think the parts of her brain that control the inhibition centers are probably not as active as they need to be, which is something that could be dealt with. I strongly believe this: This is not about sex; I think it is about attention."
[AD]Dr. Phil says the girl needs immediate and extensive evaluation on many levels, and he offers to send her to the PNP Center in Dallas. "I think we need to map her brain, which is not an invasive procedure," he assures Gwen and Mike. "Then I think we need to look at her hormonally, biochemically, and then talk about what needs to happen with her therapeutically. This is one of those things that you can turn around, but you've got to jump on this with both feet. I wouldn't trust her from here to the edge of this stage with a boy or a cell phone until this gets done."
The parents gratefully accept the help.
Not all teen trends involve a cell phone, and this next fad may signal big trouble.