In the three introduction articles, we’ve looked at sexual development in the three to fives and five to eight year-olds. They were green light behaviors, sometimes shocking and confronting to parents, but very normal from a child’s curious mind. This article looks at amber and red light behaviors that require concern and action. Remember that sexual development is a natural part of a child growing up. However, some behaviors step over the boundary of acceptable and suggest something else may be going on. The something else does not always mean the child has been sexually abused. Rather, it could be that the child had become fixated upon a particular sexual behavior because it is bringing them a degree of comfort. The reasons behind the degree of comfort need to be assessed by a person qualified to help your child, yourself and to intervene if necessary.
Amber light behaviors: Parents and teachers need to be concerned if any of the following behaviors are evident on an ongoing basis. Just like the indicators of sexual abuse, one amber light behavior is insufficient to cause great worry. More than one however, especially if occurring regularly over a period of more than six months, needs careful attention, intervention and is worthy of you talking to a person who has some professional knowledge in the area.
• A preoccupation with sexual behavior such as masturbation.
• The continually pulling down of another child’s pants, or, lifting up of girls skirts. This is a coercive behavior and is not about individual sexual development.
• Explicit conversation about sexuality and sex. How does the child know such explicit concepts?
• Sexual graffiti or the drawing of sexual parts.
• The engagement with another child in mutual masturbation (This is quite different to show me yours/mine).
• Simulating foreplay or sexual behavior in doll play.
Red light behaviors: Parents and teachers need to become immediately concerned if any of the following behaviors occur. These behaviors will usually occur in a sneaky manner and often when the child is alone. This is a marked difference from the group type behaviors already looked at as belonging to normal sexual development. If you recognize any of the following, you need to seek immediate help from counselors, welfare bodies or even the police.
• Chronic peeping behavior, particularly if the peeping occurs while the child is on their own.
• Following other children into the toilet to look at them. This is different to the group mentality of looking under toilet doors at school. That behavior is driven by age appropriate group skill development and is fueled by dares and a desire to belong to a group. Individual and consistent toilet looking is a sign of something different developing.
• Touching the genitals of any other children, not just their current peers.
• The writing of a sexually threatening note to another child.
• Penetration of any kind with any type of object – finger, peg, pen, toy, penis. Normal sexual development sometimes involves looking and touching but never penetration.
• Force to involve another person (this includes verbal threats).
• Sexual behavior that is not consensual between both children.
• An older child coercing a younger child, or any child coercing a child with an intellectual disability (whether they be younger, the same or older).
• A male child that forces a female child.
Sexual development is a normal, accepted stage of our growth. Abusive, coercive and secret sexual behaviors are not normal, developmentally appropriate or acceptable. Please seek immediate help for your child if you are concerned. Seeking help does not mean you are a bad parent, instead, it means that you are concerned and are willing to act and protect – the sign of a great parent.
My FAVORITE child focused article of the day: Positive Identity by Valerie Nelson