How to Tell if an Adult (or Older Kid) is at Risk to Sexually Abuse

Sexual abuse Red flags in child and adult predators

What are signs of grooming?

 Adults who sexually abuse children usually appear to be incredibly trustworthy and unfortunately, you cannot tell by looking at someone if they would sexually abuse a child. Most adult perpetrators “groom” the child and family by gaining their trust. They spend time with the parents in order to gain access to their children. Most abuse occurs when the abuser has one-on-one time with the child.

These are all “red flag” behaviors and should cause you to pay special attention to this adult. Most importantly, trust your gut. If someone feels “off” or a situation seems strange, or too good to be true, it most likely is. Do not be afraid to take steps to protect your child and your family.

And if you were sexually abused by someone in your family, please do not allow your child to be vulnerable to that person. If you work with children, do not be afraid to report suspicious behavior by a co-worker to your supervisor. People who sexually abuse children rarely get caught and even more rarely, recover.

Pay attention to who has access to your children

You need to be very aware of who has access to your child, anyone who pays special attention to them or arranges one-on-one time with them. This is why it’s very important to have safety conversations with your children from an early age so they can tell when an adult breaks a family rule about safety.

Do children sexually abuse other children?

About 40% of the time, children are sexually abused by other children. This occurs for a variety of reasons such as: they have been sexually abused themselves, they have been exposed to pornography, have been neglected in some way, are confused about appropriate boundaries, and many other issues can be influential. It’s important to remember that a child who abuses another child needs help and is not inherently evil, wrong or bad.

 How can I protect my child?

Talk openly about your family safety rules.

  • Download the “Super 10 Rules for Safety” and review them with your kids.
  • Trust your gut if someone seems dangerous.
  • Trust your kid’s gut if they don’t like someone, even if it seems like it’s for “no reason.”
  • Tell your children that “every adult and older kid knows it’s not okay ask a child to look at or touch their privates.”
  • Talk to them openly about sexuality.
  • Remind them that sex is not for kids – it’s for later in life! – and that every adult knows this.
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Impulsive Teens! Ack! What’s Going On With Your Teen (or Tween’s) Brain?*

Teen and Tween Impuslive Decisions and What Drives Them
As a caregiver to a teen, it may make your life a little easier if you know what’s going on with your teen’s brain. You may have noticed you and your teen driving each other crazy, your teen is more emotional, and they sometimes do things without thinking them through. You can help your teen (and yourself) through these times, including understanding “why,” tips for regaining emotional control, and even sharing what it’s like to be in charge.

At around 11 years, the brain begins a process of refining the prefrontal cortex.

This area is responsible for impulse and emotional control, decision making, goal setting, and organization of many tasks. The amygdala – the emotional center – is the part of the brain that’s running the show. Add on a big dose of hormones and…ack! Eventually hormones will even out and they will settle down into their young adult self. Talking with your teen about why they feel impulsive, along with strategies to regain emotional control, can help prevent them from saying or doing something they regret.

Your teen can say “maybe” when someone asks them to do something.

Other strategies are; count to 50, do a quick pro and con list, get up and walk away, or say they need to pee to buy some time. Suggest they set up a code with a friend that means “I’m not into this.” Help your teen practice their impulse resistance skills.

Remind your teen: if they say “maybe,” they must say “yes” or “no” eventually.It’s not fair to leave someone hanging. Saying “maybe” can help your teen stay true to their values, which can be very empowering.

When it comes to sexual activity “maybe” is not consent.

If they say “maybe” it will be confusing to their partner and could result in an unhappy situation. Tell them if they’re not sure, or are even a little bit uncomfortable, to say “no” and stop what they’re doing immediately. The new model of consent is that “yes” means YES! Make sure your teen knows and understands this: if they can’t say a wholehearted “yes” they need to say “no.”

Teen years can sometimes mean parents and kids challenge one another.

Help your teen see things from your point of view. In your own words talk about how you’re feeling with them growing up, and with how wild the world is, that you may be afraid to let them go. If you are having a fight with your teen, go somewhere else to calm down, then return and resolve the discussion. This is a great way to model good relationships. Teaching your teen about relationships can help them make empowered decisions in line with their values.

Dating smarts what every teen needs to date, relate or wait book*This is a “for parents” version of a chapter from my book for teens — Dating Smarts: What Every Teen Needs To Know to Date, Relate or Wait!
Now in paperback!

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What Your Child Should Know about the Birds & Bees By 8 Years Old

What kids should know about sex by age 8

Age appropriate sex talks from five to eight years old

In addition to your family values about sexuality, by eight-years-old your child should:

  • Have an awareness of the life cycle of humans, plants and animals, including the needs and responsibilities for caring for them.
  • Have and comfortably use appropriate words to talk about private body parts, their own and those of the other sex.
  • Know they will not be in trouble for asking you questions about sex, bodies, etc. and that you want and encourage them to talk to you about this part of life.
  • Have a grasp of and be able to discuss different types of families.
  • Know, in a basic way, what it means to be straight, bisexual, gay, gender fluid and
  • Be aware of cultural gender roles and know that very few activities are limited by one’s sex or gender.
  • Take a fully active role in keeping their body healthy and safe. This means they wash their own private areas, are able and encouraged to say “no” to uncomfortable touch, etc.
  • Be well-versed in your family’s body safety rules and know who their “safe adults” are.
  • Fully understand that sexual behavior is private, including self-pleasuring, masturbation, sex, etc.
  • Understand that people have sex for fun 99.9% of the time because it feels good to their grown up bodies.
  • Know people sometimes look at pictures and videos of naked people or people having sex on the internet and this is not for kids. The family rule is to tell you if they see this, or anything else that makes them uncomfortable, on the internet.
  • Know what the word “sexy” means, why it’s not a kid word and why it’s not okay for them to use it.
  • Be aware their bodies will change from a kid body to an adult body as they go through puberty, which can start as young as eight in girls and ten in boys.
  • Girls should know about periods before it starts — why they will have one and that they can become pregnant once it starts. Boys need to know this too.
  • Be fully informed about how babies are made, why people have sex, that it’s a natural, normal and healthy part of life and why it’s important they learn about it.
  • Be reminded regularly that sex is not for children and that it’s for later in life (much, much later).

Take a breath. This is one of the reasons why it is so important to start these conversations early so you can get it all in before someone else does.

Pick one that seems easier than the others and get talking. You’ve got this!


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How to Talk to Tweens and Teens about Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)

talk about HPV with tweens and teens

HPV is the most common and communicable STI

HPV is the most common and communicable Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI). You may know this as venereal warts, which gives you a little insight into the most common symptoms. Often, the carrier has no symptoms or the warts are on the cervix or throat and are very hard to see.

Most sexually active people will be infected with at least one type of HPV at some point. Usually the body’s immune system fights the virus and it resolves. HPV is highly communicable–very easy to get (and give)!

Why should my child have the HPV vaccine?

As you may already know, HPV is linked to cervical, throat, mouth, anal and penile cancers and this is the reason for the development of a vaccine. The virus is transmitted via sexual contact and can lead to cancer. The vaccine is about cancer prevention, not sex. Because there is a vaccine available for everyone age 9 to 26, you will probably need to chat with your kids about this STI very specifically.

Feel free to leave the “if they’ve been vaccinated for an STI this means they’ll think they have permission to have sex” thoughts by the wayside. Kids don’t interpret being vaccinated with permission to have sex. They’ll have it at some point whether or not they have had the vaccine.

The following are some scripts you can use to talk to your kids. You can adapt them to suit your values and the ages of your kids.

Explain what it is…

You need to have a vaccination for something called HPV. This is a virus you can get when you are older and it can turn into different kinds of cancer.

You know how we’ve been talking about STI’s? Well there is one called HPV that can turn into different kinds of cancer. There’s a vaccine for it, which is good news. However, it only protects from certain strains, so you can still get it, just not the cancer causing kind.

HPV is super easy to get. It’s kind of like the common cold of the crotch – that gives you cancer. Bonus! Not.

Explain why they need the vaccine sooner, rather than later…

I know it seems weird to get vaccinated for an STI when you are nowhere near being sexually active, but it’s important to get it now, so you are protected later. This doesn’t mean you don’t have to use condoms when you have sex – they are still required. You are still at risk for all the other STI’s out there.


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How to know your child is ready for the sex talk

ready for the sex talk

Wondering whether your child is ready for the birds & bees talk?

They are. Right now. No matter how old they are, they are ready.

Really. It’s totally true.


No BS.


Why on earth would you say that?

I believe your primary job as your child’s parent is summed up in one short and sweet phrase:

Keeping them healthy and safe.

That’s it. Your job is to do everything in your power to keep your children healthy and safe.

I believe talking about sex and sexuality is all about health and safety.

Think about it for a minute — they need to know about how their body works (all the parts), so they can make healthy decisions from a physical standpoint.

They need to know about relationships and dating so they can make healthy decisions from an emotional (and social) standpoint.

They need to know how to be safe, both emotionally and physically when it comes to sex and relationships.

See? Health and safety.

You are the best sex educator for your child because you will share your values. Values are hugely important to kids when it comes to sexual decision making.

And when you provide correct and research supported information about puberty, birth control, sexual practices, sexually transmitted infections and all of the physical aspects of sexuality, they make better choices and feel better about those choices as well.

Start the talk yesterday.

Get a book and jump right in. Your kids read all the time so this is a normal part of their lives. If you are still reading to them, bonus! Toss a book in with the regular reading and go for it.

Find my favorite books here. Scroll down to the bottom of the page for kid books.


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How to Define Child Sexual Abuse

definition of child sexual abuse

What is child sexual abuse?

Darkness to Light, a sexual abuse prevention organization, reports about 1 in 10 children will be sexually abused before they turn 18. We tend to think strangers are abusing children, but this is rarely the case.

Over 90% of the time the person who abuses a child is known to the child and the family Most of the time this person is a friend, family member, babysitter, coach, teacher, clergy person or neighbor; just about anyone you or your child knows.

Strangers are the least of your worries, so you can take them off your list of people to fret about. If you think about the stories you hear about abduction, it’s nearly always someone the child or family was acquainted with or knew.

How to define sexual abuse

Sexual abuse is sexual touching or activity with a child by an adult, adolescent or older child. All sexual touching or behavior by an adult with a child is sexual abuse. Besides touching, it includes non-touching behaviors such as:

  • Exposure to private body parts
  • Exposure to pornography
  • Voyeurism (spying or “Peeping Tom” behaviors)
  • Communicating in a sexual manner by phone or internet, including sexting — sending naked pictures, sexually suggestive poses, or sexual messages by text message.

Things to consider when a child or adolescent may be the perpetrator:

  • Age — Is there a 3 year age difference?
  • Size — Is one kid physically bigger than the other?
  • Developmental age difference — Is one child developmentally younger or older than the other?
  • Status — Does one child hold power over the other, like a babysitter?
  • Type of sexual activity — Is it developmentally appropriate?
  • Problematic dynamics — Any threats, coercion, or bribery involved?

Who abuses children

Adults who sexually abuse children usually appear to be incredibly trustworthy and unfortunately, you cannot tell by looking at someone if they would sexually abuse a child. Most adult perpetrators “groom” the child and family by gaining their trust.

They spend time with the parents in order to gain access to their children. Most abuse occurs when the abuser has one-on-one time with the child. You need to be very aware of who has access to your child, anyone who pays special attention to them or arranges one-on-one time with them.

This is why it’s very important to have safety conversations with your children from an early age so they understand when an adult breaks a family rule about safety.

Knowledge is empowering and it’s your responsibility to empower your children with tools and information that will keep them safer from sexual abuse.


Amy Lang, MA is a sexuality and parenting educator. Her goal is to help 1 million more kids grow up to be whole and healthy adults by teaching parents of all beliefs how to rock the sex talks.



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Romantic Love versus Family Love – How to Talk to Your Teen About the Difference


Love can be very confusing and it’s helpful for your teen to have some understanding of the different types of love. They need to know that family love is unconditional while romantic love is passionate and sexual and that, in long-term relationships, love becomes a combination of the two. Here’s how to help your teen sort out feelings of romantic love so they can have healthy relationships.

Family Love

Share with your teen that family love is unconditional, long lasting and encouraging. You may be in a family that does not fit the ideal, but the love your teen feels for family and friends should be a positive experience. Discuss with your teen that having some turbulent times is a normal part of adolescence, separating from their parents, and learning how to be an independent adult.

Romantic Love

Ask your teen how they would describe romantic love. It is usually passionate, sexual, conditional, unplanned, fleeting, and unpredictable. Romantic love has a lot to do with chemicals and hormones. Our bodies want us to find people that complement our genes. At the same time, sexual desire can fool your teen into thinking they are in love.

Being in Love

Discuss with your teen that friendships help establish trust, which is a good start to romance. Ask your teen what they would do if they were responsible for a pregnancy or contracted an STI. If your teen finds themselves in a physical relationship, but they aren’t sure about the person, they might want to reconsider the relationship. Talk with your teen about how in any healthy relationship love should not hurt and to tell a trusted adult who can find a place to get help and support (for both the abuser and the abused). Treat your teen’s relationships seriously. Remember when you were a teen? We all fall in and out of love throughout our lives. Understanding the difference between family and romantic love will help your teen navigate their feelings in romantic relationships.


Check out Dating Smarts — What Every Teen Needs to Know to Date, Relate or Wait! for more great conversation starters. On Amazon.

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Birds + Bees Talks Stalling Tactics!

Stall the sex talkYay! Stalling! It’s totally okay to do this because sometimes your kid may ask a question and the timing is terrible. However, if you stall you MUST get back to them with an answer to their question. If you don’t, you will undermine their trust in you as their reliable sex expert.

Here is the first thing you should say when your kid asks a question: “What a great question!”

I love this because they will feel like a Rock Star for being so smart and asking. Even better it gives you time to come up with an answer.

Next, ask the following questions. You might be surprised at the answers as they may be shocking. So, take a deep breath and get calm before you ask:

  1. Where did you hear about that?
  2. What do you think it means?

You will be able to figure out your response as they answer these questions. It’s totally fine if your response is something like, “Thanks for asking me about this. I need to think about the answer for little bit. How about we touch base tomorrow or at bedtime.”

If you say this you are required to do what you said you would. Even if you can’t figure out what to say, you need to get back to them at the time you said you would and tell them you are working on it.


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Guest Post: Talking to Kids About Sexual Orientation

by Dr. Jen O’Ryan

Picture a typical gathering of friends over the holidays. Laughter, music, conversation, kids running around. Now picture one of the younger kiddos enthusiastically running up to her mom and announcing that two men are kissing in one of the framed pictures down the hall. If you had spent this evening at my home, what happened…erm, I mean ‘would have’ happened is that the room goes silent except for the faint tones of “Baby, it’s cold outside” playing in the background. Then everyone would turn and look at me expectantly. I wish I could say, for the first time.

So what does this mean, other than I have questionable taste in holiday music? For some parents, the idea of discussing sexual orientation with their children, especially young children, carries with it a certain degree of uncertainty that isn’t always there when talking about heterosexuality. From an outside perspective, it seems people tend to think about homosexuality and bisexuality in terms of various sex acts; where heterosexuality is framed more around dating, courtship, and relationships. Very few of the parents I’ve spoken with are concerned about how to introduce Mr. and Mrs. Jackson to their young children without it spiraling into a complex speculation of how the couple engages in physical intimacy. When presented with introducing a gay or lesbian couple, the sexual aspect of their relationship is suddenly a big concern for adults trying to “protect” children from being confused.

This fear of confusing children and attempt to prevent exposure to homosexuality is based largely on an assumption that a heterosexual orientation is the default, or worse…”normal”. Normal is an extremely loaded word in terms of sexuality and sexual orientation. It’s as though children are presumed to be inherently heterosexual until something magical happens during adolescence or adulthood, and they then “become” lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, or however they choose to identify.

Turns out, not so much. It’s very common for lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals to become aware of their orientation during childhood. At this stage of development, same-sex attractions are not overtly sexual in nature. They are the same expressions of schoolyard crushes that are experienced by heterosexual children. Part of talking to your child about sexual orientation is not assuming they are straight (I’ll give you a minute to process that). Maybe they are, maybe they aren’t…it doesn’t matter, the point is to make space for them regardless. So instead of telling your young son that someday he’ll have a girlfriend, simply refer to it as dating. Instead of asking your teenage niece if she has a boyfriend (which is already kind of invasive for some adolescents), ask if she is seeing anyone. Taking yourself out of the ‘hetero as a default’ lens is the first step in creating an inclusive language to use with your child.

But let’s get back to the point of this article, which is how to include sexual orientation when talking to your kids about sex, love, and relationships.

First, don’t over complicate things. Children, like my friend’s daughter, are not looking for a history of gender and sexuality as a mostly social construct; she wanted to know about the picture of two men kissing. Tell her (correctly) that it’s a picture from their wedding day. The couple is celebrating a very happy moment after being married. The end. Unless there are other questions, a very likely possibility among six year olds. Answer the question that’s being asked, with age-appropriate terms (oh, honey, they’re newly married! Like mommy and daddy or grandma and grandpa are married).

If the child is older, be prepared to possibly field more complex questions around sexuality. Their questions could be related to natural curiosity, or the youth may be questioning their own sexuality. Regardless of the motivation behind questions, consider the topic of orientation as part of a larger conversation around sexual development and building skills for healthy relationships. Conversations you’ve hopefully been having with your child since their early years. No one is expecting you to be an expert, but do reach out and find resources to fill in gaps if asked something that you don’t know how to answer. Educate yourself, so you can better educate your child. And most importantly, keep those lines of communication open. As a parent or caring adult, trust me, kiddos are looking to you for cues.


Dr. Jen O’Ryan has a PhD in Human Behavior and researches environmental factors that contributed to healthy development for LGBTQ youth. She helps parents and other folks become advocates for LGBTQ kids.  Visit her website here.



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“Playing Doctor” – Typical and common behaviors in kids and what to do!

If a child is playing with a friend and they engage in typical body exploration play it usually has some, if not all, of the following characteristics:

  • They are good friends and are close and regular playmates
  • Their curiosity is good humored and the kids are having fun and are happy.
  • It is mutual and they agree to play this way. There are no threats, bribery or coercion.
  • The behavior is spontaneous and happens when they are playing a game or already doing something together.

A really quick way to assess whether a behavior is typical for a kid is to ask yourself, “Is this something adults or teens would do?” If the answer is no, then it’s most likely a common kid behavior.

For example, every week my husband gets together with his fellow motorcycle maniac pals and they work on bikes, grill steaks and drink beer. Do you think my husband and his platonic friend Jon, pop off into a corner and have a Penis Meeting? The idea probably made you laugh.

This is something most guys just do not do when they platonically hang out together. And for the record, Kerry and Jon do not have Penis Meetings— I asked.

Just because these behaviors are considered a typical part of childhood development, it does not mean you allow the children to continue to play this way.

If you do not redirect their behavior:

  • The play may continue and become problematic and sexualized, because it really does feel good when someone touches their privates.
  • The children will learn it is okay to explore privates with people they know, love and trust, which will make them vulnerable and an easy target for sexual abuse.
  • They will continue to play these games with other kids and possibly perpetrate sexualized behavior with another child.

Calmly interrupt their behavior. Explain that it’s “not okay and not safe” to play this way. Remind them of your rules about bodies — private parts are private and the rule is no looking at or touching.

Most of the time they are merely curious and nothing truly abusive is going on. If you are unsure or worried, let me know and we can schedule a consultation.

More info?

PS: You know I’m on a mission to help 1 Million MORE kids grow up to be healthy and whole adults, right? Be a pal and share this! Thanks!

Posted in Age Appropriate, Over-Sexualized Childhood, Parenting Tips, Playing Doctor / Experimenting, Sexual behavior | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment