Safety and Help for Children and Teens Who Have Engaged in Harmful Behaviors

Children and teens who abuse are not just smaller versions of adults who abuse.

One of the most difficult discoveries a parent can make is to learn that your child may have sexually harmed or abused another child.  Denial, shock, anger, and pain are common reactions. Remember that children and young people who commit sexual offenses are not younger versions of adult offenders, and specialized therapists understand this. The reasons they abuse are usually quite different from the reasons adults abuse, and current therapeutic strategies used with children and youth reflect this knowledge.  Positive, supportive help for the child or young person and the family can make a real difference.  Evidence shows that the earlier children get help, the more able they are to learn the skills they need to control behavior.

Specialized therapy.

In specialized treatment, young people learn to:

  • Understand their behavior
  • Take responsibility for their actions
  • Interrupt thought patterns that lead them to act in a sexually harmful way
  • Identify and avoid situations that are risky
  • Build social skills that help them relate well to peers
  • Develop a healthy self image and self-esteem
  • Understand how their behaviors made the other child feel
  • Ask for help when they are feeling anxious or having trouble with self-control

Therapy often involves the parent/s or guardian/s. If you are the parent of a child in treatment, the therapist may help you work out a plan that will support your child’s treatment at home. Being willing to participate and encouraging your child to participate will help them succeed in therapy.

Group therapy is also used with older kids and teens. In groups they learn to understand and find new ways to express themselves in relationships. They learn skills to recognize and interrupt sexually harmful behaviors, to socialize with their peers in safe ways, and to develop a healthier sense of self in the context of the group.

For more, read "What to consider when looking for treatment for your child" Guest column by Steven Bengis, Ed D, LCSW in PARENTtalk, When Abuse Hits Home (Spring 2004)