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Addressing Harmful Sexual Behaviour in Children and Young People

Updated: Jul 9, 2023

It is normal for children and young people to be curious about their bodies and sexuality. However, some children and young people may engage in harmful sexual behaviour that can hurt themselves and others. Harmful sexual behaviour can range from inappropriate sexual comments or jokes to sexual touching, looking at indecent images of children online, coercive sexual behaviour, or sexual abuse.


What is Harmful Sexual Behaviour?


Harmful sexual behaviour is any sexual activity between children or young people, or between a child or young person and an adult, that is inappropriate for their age or development stage and that may cause harm to themselves or others. It can include sexual touching, exposing genitals, watching sexual acts, or engaging in sexual acts. The behaviour becomes harmful when it involves coercion, manipulation, or force, or when it involves a power imbalance or an inability to give informed consent.


How Can We Prevent Harmful Sexual Behaviour?


As an adult, it is essential to take action to address harmful sexual behaviour in children and young people. Here are some steps that you can take:


Talk to the children and young people in your life, about healthy relationships and sexuality from a young age. Open and honest communication can help children and young people understand healthy boundaries and relationships. You can start by using age-appropriate language and answering their questions truthfully. Teach them about what is appropriate and inappropriate behaviour and explain the importance of respecting other people's boundaries. Discuss with them why certain models are used in adverts on TV or why the people on programmes such as Love Island may be encouraged to dress or behave in particular ways. Ask them about the videos they have seen on Tik Tok and Instagram today and how sexuality features in some of these.


Teach children and young people about consent: children and young people need to learn about the importance of asking for and giving consent in all types of relationships, including romantic and sexual relationships. Encourage them to respect other people's boundaries and to speak up if someone is making them feel uncomfortable. This will help them to develop healthy sexual relationships and reduce the likelihood of engaging in harmful sexual behaviour.

This starts with children knowing they do not have to kiss or hug anyone if they do not feel like doing this, whether that is a grandparent, friend or sibling.


Monitor children and young people's online activity: The internet can be a dangerous place for children and young people. Monitor their online activity, set age-appropriate restrictions and educate them about online safety. Teach them about the risks of sharing personal information online, the importance of reporting inappropriate behaviour, and how to respond to online sexual content.


Seek professional help: If you are concerned about a child or young person's sexual behaviour, seek professional help from a specialist. These services can provide advice, support and guidance on managing the situation and preventing further harm. They can also provide counselling and therapy to help the child or young person understand and address the underlying causes of their behaviour.


Preventing harmful sexual behaviour in children and young people is everyone's responsibility and it is important we do not place responsibility on children for keeping themselves safe. The respionsibility lies with those who may choose to behave in a harmful way. However, it does not mean that children should not be educated about why some poeple may wish to talk with them online or who may want to look at their videos etc. By taking these steps, we can help to create a safe and healthy environment for our children and young people. We must provide them with the right information and support to enable them to make informed choices about their bodies and relationships. Remember, early intervention is key to preventing harmful sexual behaviour and protecting our children and young people from harm.


Final thoughts. Educate yourself about the apps your children use. Applications such as Tik Tok, Instagram, YouTube, SnapChat, Kik and Twitter may have some positive aspects or contact but they also host accounts that are not genuine or may be risky. Share accounts with your children and do not be afraid to ask questions about what they like about the apps and what sometimes makes them feel uncomfortable about the things they see or read. This is not about telling your children off, but being the person they come to when worried, knowing you will only want to support them. This will often feel scary and confusing for yourself, especially if your child is now in trouble with school, or the police. Don't be alone with these worries, contact us on 0800 0435987 or email jenny@saferlives.com for more information for yourself and the young people you care for.


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