As part of our Two Minutes for Prevention series, Stewards of Children® author Paula Sellars provides additional insights and experience about the topic covered in the video below.
Teenagers crave freedom, but only if they’re standing on a base that is stable and secure.
-James R. Doty, MD
Back in the day when I was training as a family therapist, my supervisor framed the parent-child relationship during adolescence in a way I’ll never forget. Very simply she explained the parents’ role shifts to helping the child become independent. How the parent stays involved is paradoxically through the child’s quest for freedom. Or said another way, the independence of the young person is the forum for the interaction.
I found that to be a very simple idea to grasp, and yet a very nuanced one to help families navigate.
Rather than taking a ‘top-down approach’ to caring for, meeting needs, and governing the child as it once was, during healthy adolescence the parent-youth relationship gradually moves to collaboration and reciprocity. Mutual regard. Partnership. Negotiation. Joint decision-making. Trial and error!
It’s kind of like the toddler stage all over again, only with higher stakes and more in-the-world complexity.
When I was a teenager when it came to sex, my mother was the one to make sure I understood how it all worked, and my dad was the one to enforce boundaries to make sure it didn’t happen. I laugh now as I think about it, and maybe I’ve just forgotten some things, but in my memory that was the sum total. My parents did a very good job of us staying bonded as I made my way through adolescence, but in terms of sex that seemed the extent of it.
The short video may spark some ideas about the kinds of important conversations we can have with young teens in the arena of boundaries and sex. A couple of the examples focus on how a parent or other adults might talk to a youth about attraction to children much younger than them, and that’s something that I want to focus on here.
To do that we have to take a couple of steps back.
Child sexual abuse, because of its large numbers of victims (1 in 10 children) and because of the extent of its damage, is a national public health problem. To combat a public health problem we must focus on its causes. People with pedophilia abuse a vast majority of child sexual abuse victims.
Perhaps as high as 88 percent of children who are sexually abused are abused by someone who has the condition of pedophilia.
Pedophilia is a sexual preference for children, boys or girls or both, usually of pre-pubertal or early pubertal age. Notice the word “preference.” Those who have the condition of pedophilia prefer sexual activity with children. Not all people who sexually offend children have a sexual preference for children. And not all people who have a preference for children act on it and abuse.
But, pedophilia is the most significant cause of the pervasiveness of child sexual abuse, buttressed by social norms and taboos that make it possible.
What does this have to do with parenting and guiding young adolescents?
Pedophilia is a disorder that starts early in life. Child sexual abusers with the disorder of pedophilia often begin to molest younger children at an early age – frequently in their youth.
More than 40% of adults with pedophilia began molesting significantly younger children before they reached the age of 15, and the majority molested before the age of 20. In other words, those who sexually prefer younger children will begin to feel that preference during their youth, and frequently, they will act on it. This partially contributes to the fact that 40% of child sexual abuse victims are victimized by an older or more powerful youth.
It’s important to add that not all youth who abuse children are developing the condition of pedophilia, nor will they necessarily go on to abuse children as adults. The final outcome often rests with the intervention, guidance, and boundaries the youth receives – from parents and from professionals who work with children with sexual boundary problems.
Remember, our objective is child sexual abuse prevention. At Darkness to Light, we know that this requires taking some personal risks. So, as horrifying as it may seem to even consider, when we think about having conversations with our teenagers about sexual boundaries, we must include talking to them about boundaries with younger children.
Please watch the associated video and notice the 2 examples, one from a parent and the other from a sex offender therapist who is a parent as well. Notice how they approach the topic of sexual attraction to children much younger. And if you have other constructive ideas about how this conversation can be had with teens, please post a comment.
We end child sexual abuse together.
If you know a youth who is crossing sexual boundaries with younger children, you can contact the Child Molestation Research and Prevention Insititute to find therapists in the U.S. and Canada for the youth who has offended.
This is quite possibly one of the most important steps you can take today to prevent sexual abuse in the future.
For more in-depth learning, tools, and practical guidelines to help adults prevent, recognize, and react responsibly to child sexual abuse, take Darkness to Light’s Stewards of Children®. Find out more at www.D2L.org/Stewards.
Paula Sellars is Executive Vice President of Phoenix Possibilities Inc., a company that fosters social change and leadership through the skills of personal risk. Formerly a family therapist and cranio-sacral therapist, Paula specialized in family systems, adolescence, and trauma recovery. She designed and executed program content for an adolescent day treatment center, worked in supervisory capacities inpatient and outpatient psychiatric settings, and has worked extensively with families with sexual abuse dynamics. Paula is the author of Darkness to Light’s Stewards of Children®, a child sexual abuse prevention Docutraining® that uses consciousness training to effect behavior change. As a consciousness trainer with Phoenix Possibilities, Paula teaches the Cliff Jumping® Program and other leadership development programs for individuals, couples, and organizational groups. As a social change agent, she weaves her knowledge of the Enneagram, Spiral Dynamics and the Cliff Jumping Program to move communities to action. She is also a Oneness Blessing Giver through Oneness University in Chennai, India. Paula inspires vitality, spiritual connection, integrity and personal fulfillment.