Frequently Asked Questions

The outward expression of problematic sexual behaviors can be as unique as the child. Sometimes, these behaviors are about more than just curiosity. The behavior can lead to hurting others or themselves.

You should be concerned if the behavior:

  • Happens a lot
  • Takes place between children of wildly differing ages or abilities
  • Is initiated with strong feelings, such as anger or anxiety
  • Causes harm or potential harm
  • Involves coercion, force, or aggression

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When you address your child’s actions, a variety of emotions come into play. Common reactions included guilt, shame, disappointment in the child’s decisions, and difficulty even believing the actions happened. You’re not alone. Stay calm and find the proper social and professional help for your child.

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It can be easy to lose yourself when raising a child who is struggling or impacted by problematic sexual behaviors. Take time and find support for yourself during the healing and treatment process.

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Maybe, but many youth with problematic sexual behavior have NOT also been sexually abused. It is more common for youth with PSB to have experienced other forms of maltreatment (such as neglect and witnessing domestic violence). However, it is possible. It is helpful to ask your children about how they may have learned the sexual behavior. Further, it is healthy for families to have ongoing conversations with children about what are safe and unsafe touch, what sexual abuse is, and who/how to tell if they feel uncomfortable or are concerned about sexual behavior of others. Due to concern about possible abuse including sexual abuse, a forensic interview may be conducted. For more information about forensic interviews see Many times with teens, there is not sufficient concern about experiencing sexual abuse. Other factors appear to have contributed to the problematic behavior. See Understanding Adolescents and Problematic Sexual Behavior: Who Engages In Problematic Sexual Behavior and Why? For more information.

Current research shows that most youth with PSB do NOT go on to be adult sex offenders. In fact, recidivism (the tendency for re-offending), is quite low in this population, even without treatment. With evidence-based treatment (like PSB-CBT and MST-PSB), there is only a 3-14% chance that youth go on to engage in future problematic sexual behavior. See Connection to Treatment for more information.

Children and teens are most often engaging in PSB opportunistically, meaning they act impulsively when an opportunity arises to try something sexual and or experience a sexual feeling. As such, who your child engaged in sexual behavior with is often less important than being able to engage in the act itself. Teens, particularly, are often in caregiver/babysitting roles or have opportunities to be alone with younger children they know (family, friends, neighbors, etc.). Teens may take advantage of these opportunities, but are often not seeking them out. This is significantly different from adults with pedophilia, who have specific attraction to pre-pubescent children and seek out opportunities to engage in sexual behavior with that age group. Few youth are exclusively sexually interested in younger children. For more information on individuals attracted to young children see

Similar to the answer above, a child or teen’s sexual orientation (who they are attracted to) cannot be determined from their problematic sexual behavior itself. Most youth engage in PSB by taking advantage of an opportunity provided to them, rather than seeking out someone they are explicitly attracted to. Many youth engage in PSB with other youth of the same-sex or same-gender but do not experience specific attraction to them. Data also indicates that this generation of youth and teens are more open to engaging in same-sex sexual behavior than ever before, due to specific attraction and/or to explore their own sexuality.

Some youth who engage in PSB may be gay, bisexual, lesbian, queer/questioning or pansexual (LGBTQ+). However, it’s important to know that being LGBTQ+, is NOT a risk factor for engaging in problematic sexual behavior, nor does acting on that attraction mean a child is engaging in problematic sexual behavior. Youth who are LGBQT+ are actually at higher risk of their own victimization than non- LGBTQ+ youth and are not any more likely to engage in PSB.

All kinds of families. The families may have biological parents, step-parents, grandparents, foster or adoptive parents, or kinship parents. The families have many different levels of income and education and they represent all ethnicities. Many of these families are functioning well and have typical family problems. Other families experience high levels of stress along with a history of problems with maltreatment, substance abuse, domestic violence, and/ or unstable employment. There is no one type of family or one type of teen that engages in PSB.

When confronted with a major behavioral incident, many youth may deny what happened or only tell part of what happened. It’s a natural response for most youth due to fear, shame, and/or concern for judgment and consequences. Some youth tell the truth right away, others deny for short periods of time, and others deny for very long periods of time. Some youth say the longer they wait to tell the truth, the harder it is to tell the truth later. A child/teen’s natural fear response of denial does NOT mean they are bad kids, lack empathy, and/or are more likely to go on to engage in more harmful sexual behavior. Many youth begin to open up about what happened once they are involved in appropriate treatment and are in a supportive therapeutic environment. It is common for youth to disclose about their PSB gradually over time, rather than all at once. tip sheet

Find the most up-to-date research and findings available to you.

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Find the most up-to-date research and findings available to you.

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If you have a peer or an adult sending you inappropriate pictures online – such as photos of private parts – notify a trusted adult immediately. If the individual is coercing or asking you to send pictures back, get help to not do it.

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The National Center on the Sexual Behavior of Youth has gathered a variety of resources pertaining to the development of PSB-CY Multidisciplinary Teams and Family Advocate programs.

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We’ve partnered with the Indian Country Child Trauma Center to provide resources on problematic sexual behavior, addressing problematic sexual behaviors, and barriers and solutions in tribal communities.

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