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Help. My 12-year-old granddaughter was caught sexting.

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Q: My granddaughter, 12, was involved in an incident where she and two other 12-year-olds, a boy and a girl, were sexting each other. Her mom has her getting counseling and has limited her phone access to only public use. How do I talk to her so she understands that this is more than inappropriate? Or should I just say nothing?

A: I know parents and grandparents are reading this right now aghast, but please know that your granddaughter is not alone in the sexting phenomenon. Although this is an awful situation to discover, tweens and early teens have always been interested in sex and the taboo, so texting just makes those issues quicker and easier to explore. Before we dive in, I’m wondering about your relationship with your granddaughter. I’m assuming you two are close, but if you aren’t, please consider supporting the parents rather than trying to handle this directly with your granddaughter. (Too many shaming cooks in the kitchen.)

How to talk to kids about sex

There are some traits in tweens that make sexting quite attractive to them, and it isn’t only about sex. It’s important to understand that, for tweens, peers and what peers think are often paramount. Tweens from every type of home and family can easily get swept into inappropriate activities by virtue of one simple idea: They desperately want to belong. The second issue is that you take this desperate need to belong, add lightning-fast technology and poof. Bad decisions become easy and permanent. The final issue is that, whether we adults are comfortable with it or not, tweens are full of hormones and are rightly curious about their changing bodies. And because the porn industry is huge, many tweens have been exposed to all kinds of sex, so sexting isn’t that far off.

Are you panic-sweating yet?

Here’s the deal: You need to ramp down the emergency “all-hands-on-deck” mode of attack. Your granddaughter needs boundaries, absolutely, but she also needs shame-free support to grow into a sexually healthy young woman. I don’t know that you are going to get through to her by telling her how inappropriate this behavior is, but this is absolutely the time for her parents to tell her about the implications of these texts. As Catherine Dukes, a licensed sex therapist from Newark, Del., says: Sexting “can too easily escalate to sharing sexual images, which is illegal, putting them at risk of legal consequences.”

Tweens are often not thinking about down the road, or even tomorrow, but sexting can negatively affect your granddaughter’s future in many ways (suspended or expelled from school, for instance), and she needs to know that.

As for moving forward, your granddaughter needs support around understanding her sexuality and navigating how to avoid situations like this. She needs to know that there is nothing wrong with sex or with being curious about it, but you can still work on coaching her with scripts and statements that she can have prepared. Dukes suggests statements such as, “Tell them your grandmother would find out, and you can’t risk making her mad.” Blaming parents and grandparents is a great way to sidestep myriad tween and teen issues, and your granddaughter needs to be ready for these moments.

In my experience, adults freak out about sex and sexting and send the child to therapy. I am not saying this is bad, but I am suggesting there is often a shaming message that goes with that decision. Instead of labeling the daughter, I strongly suggest that you and the parents educate yourselves on sex and talking about sex with young people. I know many of us were not brought up feeling safe and confident with our own sexuality, but by stepping into this leadership role, you become a trusted source of information.

The website Sex Ed Rescue is a fount of knowledge about everything from puberty to, you guessed it, sexting. It also offers classes and developmental charts, so you can remember that it is normal and healthy for tweens and teens to be interested in sex and sexuality.

Whatever you do, please don’t shame your granddaughter for this one mistake. The beauty of mistakes, even big ones like this, is that they can become pivot points. This mistake can either beget shame, diagnoses and fear, or it can invite you to become more aware of your role in her sex education and in helping your granddaughter become a strong and confident young woman.

More from Lifestyle:

It’s never too early to talk about consent and boundaries

Is teen sexting cause for concern or no big deal?

Yes, even your child: New study shows teen sexting is more common than you may think

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