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Children are not responsible for abuse! And neither are parents. However, as a parent, you are responsible for helping your child develop the skills they need for speaking up and getting out of a bad situation if and when those bad situations happen. When your child is 16, what consent skills would you like them to have?

Good places to start are...

As a parent, here are some tips you can use to build these skills with your teen:

90% of abuse happens from a trusted adult in a teen's life. 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are at risk. Ways you can discourage abuse from other adults is by being unpredictable to other adults in your teen's life. This can look like...

Offenders do not like parents who are engaged, proactive, and unpredictable to them. It lets them know they can't trust you to stay away long enough for them to plan an offense. It tells them you have a watchful eye. This becomes more challenging as your teens desire more freedom. Being unpredictable to adults does not mean engaging in rescuing or helicopter parenting strategies, nor does it mean being unpredictable to your teen! This can be an odd balance to strike, and there is no way to do it perfectly.

Another high-risk population for abuse is children who were raised to be obedient (read about the drill sergeant parenting style here). Forcing your teen to be polite and blindly obedient increases your child's risk for grooming. Children who are taught to do what they are told despite how they feel, and children who are told to never question orders are at high risk of not talking about abuse if it happens. Showing your child the difference between obedience and respect as well as obedience and mutual cooperation is an essential skill to helping your teen understand and set their own boundaries. Teens need to learn how to say "no" to other adults in their life if they are in an unsafe situation.

60% of teens will not talk about any abuse if it is happening. Usually, they won't share because they...

Touch starved teens

When a child receives little to no physical contact for a prolonged amount of time, the child will start to seek out physical contact from others in their life. This makes the child more susceptible to being groomed. Make sure you offer hugs and physical contact with your kids regularly! This can be challenging for nursing mothers - you may be overwhelmed by touch and pull away from your older kids. This can also be challenging for teens as they go through puberty. They may be less interested in tickles and wrestling however they still need pats on the back, hugs, and eye contact!

If you suspect that your teen has experienced abuse, get support.

It is imperative that when your child discloses to you, you continue to repeat the following messages through both your words and your actions:

If your child is in danger, don’t hesitate to call 911. You can also call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) to talk to someone from your local sexual assault service provider who is trained to help.

How am I supposed to react?

There is no “right” reaction to hearing that your child has been abused. You may experience a wide range of reactions and feelings that may impact different aspects of your life. Some common reactions from parents include:

It is important to keep in mind that there is no one “right” reaction and that all reactions and responses are normal. Having both you and your child talk to a professional about these thoughts and feelings can help sort through these issues. Professional support can also result in healthier long- and short-term results for both you and your child.

Your child is counting on you for support. In order to put your child’s safety first, it’s important to take care of yourself. That means finding a way to work through your feelings and reactions to the abuse that doesn’t interfere with your child’s welfare. It may not be easy, but with the right support it is possible.

What if the perpetrator is part of my family?

Finding out that your child was hurt by someone you know and trust can present some additional challenges as a parent. You may be faced with a range of emotions specific to this situation that others can’t relate to. Some experiences of parents may include:

What can I expect from my child?

The effects of sexual assault and abuse vary from person to person. The process of healing from sexual abuse can take a long time, and it’s understandable to feel frustrated as a parent. Survivors of child sexual abuse can react in a wide variety of ways. Some of these reactions could cause you discomfort or take you by surprise.


Reporting a crime like sexual abuse may not be easy, and it can be emotionally draining. Keep in mind that reporting abuse gives you the chance to protect a child and likely future children who can’t protect themselves. Depending on where you live and your role in the child's life, you may be legally obligated to report suspicions of abuse. You can learn more about the laws in your state by visiting RAINN's State Law Database.

Before you report
Where to report
After you report
To speak with someone who is trained to help, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673)

Age-appropriate, evidence-based education about sex, sexual identity, and sexual health is key to lowering the risk of abuse, reducing teen pregnancy, and reducing the spread of STI's for teens. Children that feel safe enough to talk about their identity and their sexual health with a trusted adult are at reduced risk of becoming targets for sexual predators and are more equipped to make safe choices about sex.

Things to keep in mind when talking to your tweens and teens about sex:

As girls develop:

As boys develop:

Talking to your teen about sexual orientation and gender identity: