The law recognizes that children are developmentally not able to make decisions about some things, including when to engage in sexual behaviors. Laws vary by state, but a common age of consent is 16. Engaging in sexual behaviors with someone under the age of consent is illegal and will be treated as criminal sexual conduct.
Even if a child or underage teen gives permission or acts willingly, this never implies consent. A child is never accountable. A child’s permission or even request to play a sexual touching or watching game never excuses the adult or teen from taking full responsibility for the interaction.
It is always the adult’s responsibility to set boundaries with children and underage teens. Sometimes people justify their sexual activity with children by saying the child “wanted” to or the child touched them first. They may misread a child’s affection as sexual. They may tell themselves “Age is just a number” or “S/he looks and acts older so it’s okay.” If someone you know is unclear about boundaries with children, remind them of their responsibility to set boundaries and the potentially high consequences to them if they don’t.
If your teen is in a romantic relationship with a younger peer, it is important to talk with them about the laws about consent. Be sure they understand the importance of the age differences between two sexually active teens and at what age they can legally consent to sexual contact – and when the laws says they can’t. Learn the laws in your state and talk with your child about the potentially serious consequences of not following the law. You can find this information online or learn more through the local office of your Attorney General.