Is my teenage son's behavior normal?
Dear Stop It Now!,
My teenage son came into the washroom and peeked at me in the shower. Is this normal? He said he was curious.
Dear Concerned Parent,
Teenagers and their behaviors can be confusing, and it sometimes is hard to know what’s “normal” and what may be the signs of something more serious; I’m so glad you’ve reached out to us with these concerns.
It is normal for children and teens to be curious; voyeuristic behaviors are common in adolescents. Age-Appropriate Sexual Behavior, while normal can still be confusing and still require parental guidance, education and sometimes – intervention. I’m glad to hear that you’ve spoken to your son, and his answer that he “was curious” may have been the truth. It would be helpful to know more about what his curiosity is about, and it’s important for your son to understand that even though curiosity is healthy, it’s never okay to invade someone’s privacy by looking at them without their consent.
It’s also important to put this behavior in context and to pay attention to any Warning Signs you might have noticed in your son recently. As you review this tip sheet, note also if you have seen any drastic changes in his behavior or attitude recently, if he has been having trouble generally with rules and boundaries, or if there have been any reports of inappropriate behavior from his school. How is he doing in his overall interactions with others – his friends, other family members and in his community? Also, have there been any other incidents of voyeurism or other inappropriate sexual play, or is this the first time this has occurred? As we’re uncertain about the presence of other warning signs, we hope that you will consider other warning signs as you consider your next steps.
Safety Planning Through Engagement and Education
Though voyeuristic behaviors can be seen in teenagers at this age, they still need to be addresssed and redirected. Now would be a great time for you to have a more formal sit-down talk with your son about the rules and expectations about sexuality, appropriate behavior, and consent.
He should know that it’s never okay to look at anyone while they’re in the bathroom (or whenever someone is asking for privacy, like when a bedroom door is closed). You can let him know that this type of behavior is not okay, and you may also want to let him know how this made you feel – shocked, ashamed, scared, confused or angry – and you’d like him to stop. However, make sure you also let him know that you still love him very much.
However, if we assume that there are no other warning signs and that your son’s admission of his curiosity is the only driving force, it’s important to understand that as your son grows into an older adolescent, it’s normal for him to want to explore with boundaries – both personal and sexual – because he’s still navigating what’s appropriate and discovering himself and others. So, it’s critical to address his curiosity in an educational and non-shaming manner. He appears to have questions and we want him to know that there are other ways he can explore safely and respectfully. Make sure he understands where he can get information from if he wants to learn more about his own or women’s bodies. The internet can be a great resource, but we want appropriate resources from a trusted source, not pornography, to be where your son is receiving information from.
As he may start having more intimate relationships with friends and peers, it’s vital you’re talking to him about how to navigate these new challenges in a compassionate, caring, and safe way –and you’re also talking to him about your own expectations and values around relationships, sexual contact, and consent. A person always must give affirmative consent – so spying on someone without their permission engaging in a non-consensual activity. Talk to him about how alcohol, drugs and having a disability can also impact a person’s ability to give consent. Make sure he understands that affirmative consent means hearing a “yes” at all points during the interaction, and that if at any point someone feels uncomfortable or says “no” it’s important to stop immediately.
I’ve included some materials below just for parents on some of these essential topics:
- Qustodio: Parental control software to help caregivers give safe internet access to their children. Blocks inappropriate content, monitors calls and texts, controls games and apps, and sets healthy screen time limits. Works for phone, tablets, and desktops. Free for one device.
- Parent's Sex Ed Center (Advocates for Youth): Expert advice for parents to communicate accurately with their children about sexuality and sexual topics.
- Sexuality Resource Center for Parents: Information and tips for parents and caregivers to aid in talking to children, including those with disabilities, about healthy sexuality, development, and how to prevent abuse.
- Talking to Kids About Rape (Parent Map): Article that helps parents start an important conversation with their kids about rape, consent, risk, and other important topics.
And here are some resources specifically for teenagers that you may want to review first and then pass along to your son to explore on his own:
- Info for Teens (Planned Parenthood): Information for teenagers about their changing bodies, sexual and reproductive health, relationships, and consent
- Sexual Health (Teens Health): Information for adolescents on their own and their peers’ bodies, puberty, and sexual health
- Sex, Etc.: An organization by teens for teens that has articles and videos on identity, masturbation, sex, and what’s normal and healthy for your body
Finally, if you did notice any of the warning signs above in your son, or if this behavior were to continue to occur after your conversations, limit setting and education, then I would encourage you to seek outside help from a specialized professional who work with Youth’s Sexual Behaviors. While there may be many reasons why he has difficulty with rules around boundaries and consent, a professional can help him and your family identify next steps to help him practice safe and respectful behaviors.
Stop It Now!
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Last edited on: June 9th, 2021