I am worried that my child is molesting other kids.

Dear Stop It Now!,

Yesterday I discovered pictures on my 5-year old son’s Nintendo DS of sexual behaviors between him and his best friend. One of the pictures shows my son's 4-year old friend performing oral sex on my son. There are other pictures of them kissing various body parts, as well as another one where my son is pulling apart his buttocks to show his anus.

As a parent I don't think this is regular kids "playing doctor behavior”, especially because they took pictures. When confronted my son said, “We wanted to have fun!”  but when asked if someone taught him these behaviors, he denied it. I searched my computer for any history of porn sites but didn't find anything.

I know my kid needs some kind of therapy but I don’t know where and how to look for it. He doesn't have private insurance; his insurance is through Medicare.

Dear Concerned Mom,

This is one of the difficult tasks of parenting – recognizing when there is a potential problem and reacting to that with healthy and protective responses.

Warning signs

You are right; this is not age-appropriate sexual play between children. It is important that these behaviors be taken very seriously, as you’re doing. Our resources on Sexual behavior problems in youth can further help inform you.

Please review our Warning signs that a child may be at-risk to harm another child. Even without knowing which child initiated this behavior, and how the child who was the “follower” reacted and felt about this, I do know that this is sexually harmful behavior. I’d like you to also look at our Warning signs that a child has been abused, and to note whether you’ve seen any other signs in your son or for that matter, in his friend.

I am wondering if you have other reasons to believe that this was exclusively your son’s idea. I recognize the pictures were found on his Nintendo but it is worth checking out the possibility that his friend introduced these activities.

Taking pictures of the activity does add an additional concern. I’m glad that you asked your son if someone has “taught” him these behaviors and while he denied that, it does remain a question to explore in order to assess any risks in his own life.; Are there any adults in his life that show signs that they may be at risk to harm a child? Please see Signs in adults at risk to abuse children and I am also wondering about indirect exposure to material with adult content. Is there a possibility that he has seen adults watching pornographic images?

Support and safety planning

Regarding your response, it is important that you respond to your son with love and support, while setting very clear rules about acceptable and safe behavior. Creating a family safety plan is very important and at this point, I would recommend strongly that you supervise closely all interactions that your son has with other children.

Getting professional help

Our resources for Specialized therapy can help get you started in finding a therapist. Scroll down to the bottom of page for referral resources for youth. When you call, you can ask specifically for treatment resources that accept Medicare. Many mental health clinics do accept this insurance. In addition, you can contact SAMHSA (1.800.273.TALK) and ask for a mental health clinic that accepts Medicare, and also request a counselor experienced in working with children with sexual problem behaviors.

Communicating with other parents

As difficult as this is to think about, the parents of the children in the pictures your son took should be notified. I recognize that this will be a potentially very difficult conversation but for everyone’s protection, it is an important step. Here are some tips to help with that conversation:

  • Stick to the facts while offering no theories about the behaviors and with no blame.
  • Present a “we’re on the same side” approach by asking the parents for their help in working with both boys. “I’ve got a problem that I hope you can help with” and then ask for suggestions on next steps.
  • Let them know what you are already doing.
  • Consider adding, “I’m a little uncomfortable and nervous talking to you about this but I care about our children and I think this is important.” There is no need to pretend that you’re calm and at ease when admitting that you’re anxious will help make you easier to relate to and help the parent not feel under the spot light as much.
  • Be prepared to provide the parents with resources for help and information. For example, you can provide them with our website information.

Also, be prepared – they may be very angry and scared. You may have to take a break from the conversation and let them know that you understand how upsetting this information is, but that you are available to partner with them to help both boys and that you want their assistance in figuring out a safety plan that includes supervision guidelines. You may want to include the actions you’re taking to address your son’s involvement and behavior.

I realize that this is a lot of information to take in. Please feel free to write us back with any questions or concerns. It's important that you know that when children are responded to with love, support, safety and in some cases – counseling, they can absolutely go on to live healthy safe lives. I’ll be hoping for the very best for you and your family.

Take care,
Stop It Now!

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Last edited on: August 24th, 2012