TODAY | February 24, 2012
>>> back now at 8:11 with a troubling trend among young girls. teens and tweens posting videos of themselves online asking viewers to rate their looks. in many cases the responses only serve to further damage their fragile sense of self-esteem. we have kristen dahlgren reporting.
>> do you guys think i'm pretty?
>> i want to know if i'm pretty or not.
>> am i pretty, ugh sfli.
>> am i ugly or pretty? tell me the truth.
>> the question is nothing new for teens and tweens.
>> leave a comment. you can be honest.
>> reporter: but the internet is now taking it to new levels. young teens asking viewers, complete strangers, to leave comments about their looks. some videos have nearly 4 million hits. 13-year-old faye posted hers last month.
>> there was a couple of people at school that constantly call me ugly. i thought asking other people could make me feel better about myself.
>> reporter: those other people responded. some left comments that were positive. but many posts were nasty, calling faye pretty ugly and an idiot. negative comments that left a much deeper impression on the 8th grader.
>> it's easier to hear bad things like your flaws than it is to hear the good things.
>> reporter: experts say a girl's self-image peaks at age 9 and then perceived physical attractiveness plays a big role in a teen's self image .
>> the focus on determining what your peers think of you is not something new. the technology has provided a new avenue for doing this. they are taking advantage of it in ways that sometimes might be positive, but certainly has risk.
>> reporter: faye 's mother is concerned about the risks, not only about damage to her daughter's self-esteem but also about who's watching her daughter's video.
>> i was afraid they would really say something that was really just not right for a 13-year-old to hear or see.
>> reporter: youtube responded to the concern. youtube is for people 13 years or older only. our community guidelines prohibit videos or comments containing harassment, threats or hate speech . therapists say parents need to remind their children that their value is based on more than looks.
>> your personality, your talent. even though they roll their eyes at you, they are always listening.
>> reporter: if it seems unlikely that a tween or teen will hear the message coming from mom or dad, point them right back to youtube .
>> please delete those videos.
>> reporter: other adolescents now responding to the postings by helping send some self-esteem.
>> confident girls are beautiful!
>> reporter: for "today," kristen dahlgren, nbc news, los angeles .
>> donna rice hughes is the executive producer of internet safety 101 and gail saltz is a "today" contributor. good morning to you.
>> good morning.
>> why would tweens ask strangers over the internet whether or not they are pretty?
>> ann, this is a massochistic defense mechanism teenagers are using to quell anxiety about appearance. this is a self-destructive yet unconsciously a coping mechanism that they are trying to feel better but it's not working. the risks when they hear back, the hate speech that we heard.
>> quite significant. this is an open forum essentially for bullying. the same ramifications we see from bullying which is tearing down self-esteem, feeling attacked and frankly because this is masochistic they will take it, internalize it. we have seen it all the way up to suicide.
>> donna, does doing it make the girls more vulnerable to predators online?
>> it absolutely does. predators are already seeking vulnerable children who are looking for affirmation, who are looking to find love in the wrong places. they are there to affirm them, to build relationships and to start that grooming process and, like gail said, this sets kids up for risky behavior as well. we have to realize, parents especially that kids are not immune. they are good smart kids trying on new identities online. they are seeking to get love and affirmation online. it puts them at great risk.
>> what can a parent do?
>> well, parents can do a lot. the first thing is to get proactive. know what your kids are doing. have an ongoing dialogue and communication with them. supervise what they are posting. their pictures and videos. and --
>> i think this is an opportunity.
>> it is.
>> any parent watching this now should use the opportunity to sit down with their daughter tonight and say, it's a normal time to feel insecure. but this is something that girls are doing and it's a very bad idea. i want to talk to you if you are feeling insecure and if you are feeling very insecure, let's get you some help.
>> dr. gail saltz and donna rice hughes , we are out of time. certainly this is going to start a conversation.