"I had never heard of sexting, and I had no idea that has been going on between kids," says Julia, mother of Brittany, a pseudonym. "My daughter made a choice to send a text of her chest area to this boy, who then shared that photo with his friends. She was crushed. She just wanted to crawl in a hole and die ... She just cried and was very broken, and she told me that she didn't want to live. I didn't take it seriously. I was caught so off guard, and I literally was in shock. I really did not know what to say to her. Little did I know that she was wanting to kill herself."
Brittany swallowed 23 pills in an effort to take her life. "I believe my daughter tried to commit suicide because she was so ashamed to go back and face her peers knowing that she was going to be harassed, and teased and bullied over this incident," Julia shares.
After her daughter's suicide attempt, Julia's focus was to stop the spread of the photo. "The first thought that went through my mind is, oh my goodness, how do we get this photo back from those boys so it doesn't go worldwide? I wanted to make sure that that photo got deleted," she recalls. "I went ahead and contacted the local sheriff. Every one of those families were at the sheriff's office by 4:00 that afternoon. I apologized to them that my daughter had sent a pornographic picture to their child. It was hard to address these families, because my daughter had done something that was very inappropriate."
[AD]Julia says the incident affects their entire family as well as four other families. "It made me feel like I had failed, that somewhere along the line, as a parent, as a spiritual leader for my child, I failed," Julia reveals.
"It has changed my life. I don't have time to pursue the ministries in the church that I have been a part of," Julia says, with tears welled in her eyes. "They are so concerned for her. They were so concerned that she was trying to attempt suicide, I don't think it dawned on them until later to ask, â€˜How are you holding up?'"
Julia admits she feels ashamed. "Ashamed that my child would do something like this," she says. "I know she sees how broken I've been, and how sad, and how our lives have changed, but I'm not sure if she does understand how hard it was for me."
In the studio, Dr. Phil addresses Julia. "You were shocked," he says. "You were one of those people [who thought] this happens to other kids, not yours."
[AD]"Absolutely," she says. "I did not know how to respond. I was in such shock. I looked at her, and I said, â€˜I need some time to process this.'"
"Do you think you've had the right reaction, the right response to this?" Dr. Phil asks.
"I had to sit back and think. I did respond in a poor way," she admits. "I took the shame of the incident, and I put it on myself. Then I spoke to my child." She says a week after the incident she told her daughter, "I am so ashamed of you and what you've done," a comment she now regrets. "I wish I could take those words back," she tells Dr. Phil.
"You said some things that jumped out to me," Dr. Phil says. "You said, â€˜I can't understand why my daughter would devalue herself.' You said, â€˜This is something she will never forget. Labels will stay with her no matter what she does.' You said, â€˜I had to walk in shame.' You said, â€˜It changed my whole family's life. We profess to have this great life, and it all falls apart. I don't know if she knows how hard this was for me.' When you see those [statements] kind of all together, what's your reaction?"
"I want to encourage parents to really be careful how they speak to their child about a situation like this," she says.
"Your daughter was a victim in this, and for a parent to put a message on a child that " 'Because of you, I walk in shame. Because of you, our family has now come apart' " that is a horrible message to give a child, because she can't undo that," Dr. Phil says. "She made a bad choice, but that doesn't make her a bad person, and I know you know that." He points out that teen girls are vulnerable to peer pressure from boys. "I want moms and dads to talk to their daughters about this," he continues. "At this point, she needs help, she needs love, she needs support. She needs to forgive herself. She needs to have forgiveness from you. She needs to have learned a valuable lesson and move on."
[AD]"I totally agree," Julia says, noting that participating in the show has helped her communication with Brittany. "I did have a day where I did say, â€˜I'm so sorry this happened, but I'm sorry I've been hard on you.' I didn't realize how hard I was being. I really didn't. It breaks my heart."
"This got to the point of what impact it was having on you, and this little girl tried to take her own life," Dr. Phil says.
Lisa interjects, "I think compassion has to be the watchword here. What she did was not out of the mainstream. It's just that the technology is there now to preserve it and humiliate her."
Dr. Phil addresses Julia. "This will live on to the extent that you guys choose for it to live on," he says. He points out that in the grand scheme of things, this won't be remembered. It was a dumb mistake made by a teen, and at least she's not pregnant or on drugs. "She tried to take her own life. At that point, I wouldn't care if everybody was throwing rocks at me. What I would care about is my child, and I know you do. This is about her. As parents, we have to be fiduciaries, where we say, â€˜My feelings don't matter. I'm tough. I can get through this. What I need to look at is how she's labeling herself.'"