What Do I Do Now?

Most parents have a very strong negative reaction when they first learn that their teen has committed an illegal sexual act. 

  • Faced with the news, parents scream, yell, cry, threaten—and sometimes resort to threats or blows. 
  • Parents tell us they feel shocked, furious, disappointed, and confused.
  • They find it hard to believe that their son or daughter could do such a thing.
  • They don’t know which way to turn, whom to call or trust, or what to do.
  • Most have never had to deal with the police, Child Protective Services, or the legal system.
  • They blame themselves, their teen, sometimes even the victim.
  • Many consider it the worst moment of their lives.

These responses are understandable and normal.  Managing these feelings effectively can help you help your son or daughter. The past cannot be changed but there are a number of things that you can do to help your child and your family. 

How can I manage these feelings?  How can I help my child?

Most parents can’t possibly be calm and helpful when they first learn about their teen’s harmful sexual behavior. As with any crisis situation with a teenager, it’s best first to separate yourself from your child, calm yourself down, and try to think clearly about what needs to be done. Once you feel more calm and collected, however, your teen needs to know

  • you still love him, despite the sexually harmful behavior;
  • you will support him during treatment.

It’s okay to let him know that you are upset, disappointed, and angry about what he did, but he also needs to know that you will stand with him and do what is necessary to get help. It’s okay for your son or daughter to realize that you are disappointed, the family and others were let down, and there is much work to be done to regain your trust. 

Then What?

You need to make some decisions, and you need to make them thoughtfully and carefully. The following concerns are usually the most important to address first: 

  • Is the child victim safe? Are there other children that need protection? What needs to be done to make an effective safety plan is in place and ensure that it is followed? 
  • Is your teen safe? Will he try to hurt himself or run away now that his behavior has been discovered? 
  • What will happen in the course of the investigation?  Will law enforcement investigate? Will Child Protective Services (CPS) be involved? 
  • Because there may be significant legal consequences for the teen’s illegal sexual behavior, obtaining legal advice may be essential for helping your teen and your family navigate this crisis successfully.
  • Are there family members, friends, or clergy you can trust to help you deal with the situation and make decisions more effectively? 
  • Should you check to see what treatment resources for your family are available in the community?

These questions can be difficult to answer, so most parents find it helpful to involve a trusted relative, friend, or clergy member for support and help with making these decisions. It is important to consider each decision carefully because each one can have significant impacts on your son or daughter and on your family as you move ahead. 

It is important to remember that Child Protection Services, law enforcement, and the juvenile legal system are designed to make certain that children and the community are safe and to help rehabilitate youth. As parents you want what is best for your children and the professionals in these systems should be able to assist you and your family to obtain the appropriate services for your children.  There are many myths about youth with problematic or illegal sexual behavior, including among professionals in the community.  The Professional section of this website is designed to support those professionals involved.

What is My Fault?

Parents often look back and think, “I should have seen that coming”; “I should have been suspicious”; or “How could I not have known that this was happening?” But only in rare cases do parents have clues that their son or daughter might sexually abuse another person. The signs of problematic sexual behavior are hard to recognize because teens hide their sexual behavior from adults, and especially from their parents. In most cases, parents had no way to know that they should have intervened.

Telling Others About Your
Adolescents Illegal Sexual Behavior

It can be difficult to decide what—or if—or when to tell other people about your son’s or daughter’s behavior.  Do you tell grandparents, other family members, school personnel, or friends? Whom do you tell? And what do you tell them? Some issues are discussed below to help you think through these decisions.

Who Needs to Know?

If your adolescent is living at home and others will be supervising him, they need to know that he needs close supervision. This is to reduce any possible problematic behavior, eliminate the chance of his behavior with a child being misinterpreted, and to provide maximum protection for children. While they may not need to know exactly what happened, they need to be given basic information, such as, “Jerry made a mistake and the court has put him on probation. He needs to have an adult supervise him at all times, so he needs to be where you can see him and what he’s doing.”

If the person asks what he did, you can say, “Our lawyer said it was best not to discuss it”; “It was an instance of bad judgment and he is in treatment (or on probation). By the way, he’s doing very well and we are proud of his progress.” 

It may, however, be necessary to tell other family members more information, particularly if your son or daughter will be living with them. It is recommended that you discuss with your teen what you will say to the relatives. In most cases, a detailed account is not necessary. It does need to be clear, however, that the teen needs rules in the home, supervision, and if there are other requirements of probation, they must also be met. 

How about the school?  

In some states, probation officers are required to notify school personnel if a youth has been adjudicated as a delinquent, typically for a serious behavior. If the state does not require that this information be provided to the school, parents may or may not decide to inform school personnel about their son’s behavior or probation plan. In making this decision, parents should consider factors such as,

  • Did the teen have problematic sexual behavior in a previous school?
  • Does the youth need additional supervision at school?
  • How responsive has the teen been to treatment?
  • How well can the teen control their impulsive behavior?

It is recommended that parents discuss this issue with their teen’s attorney and treatment provider before they make a decision. 

In general, the rules about whom to tell should be, Do they need to know? If not, the information does not need to be discussed; if so, what do they need to know to ensure safety.

Taking Care of Yourself

Putting your lives back together after your child has been involved in illegal sexual behavior is highly stressful for all members of the family. As a parent, it is particularly stressful. So it is important that you remember to plan some things to increase your positive feelings and outlook. Some activities that may help you cope with the stress include

  • taking an active part in your adolescent’s treatment program;
  • taking a walk every day with family members;
  • talking with trusted friends or family members who can give you reassurance and support;
  • planning and doing fun things together as a family;
  • using some relaxation exercises every day; and
  • thinking positive thoughts about the future.

It is important to remember that most teens with illegal sexual behavior respond well to treatment and are not involved in any further illegal sexual behavior.  Even though at this time it may feel like this incident is a horrible disaster from which your family will never recover, keep your thoughts on the positive aspects in this website and know that the chances are good that your teen and your family will recover.

Tips to Remember
1 Try to stay calm.
2 Reassure your child you care about them.
3 Enlist a trusted friend and/or attorney to help you make decisions.
4 Provide close supervision.
5 Develop and implement a plan to keep all family members safe.
6 Inform those who need to know.