Prevent your child from becoming sexual offender

Editor's note: This is the third in a three-part series examining the problem of sexual abuse of kids by kids.

More than one-third of sexual crimes against children are committed by other kids, having serious consequences for both the offenders and their victims. Offenders are overwhelmingly male, acting out against both boys (25 percent of the time) and girls (75 percent of the time). The likelihood of your child committing a sexual crime rises dramatically between the ages of 12 to 14.

These kids are generally not pedophiles, and they have a very low rate (5-15 percent) of subsequent sexual offenses. For many of these children, their sexual acts are behaviors of opportunity. They use a vulnerable and younger child for sexual gratification rather than engaging in sexual relations with a peer. In other situations, their sexual behaviors are part of a pattern of delinquent behavior. These kids, usually teens, have little impulse control and act out in all kinds of ways against their family, school, or community. They have extremely poor judgment, and engage in behaviors with younger children whom they manipulate into “willingly” going along with the sexual acts.

Here’s what parents can do to help prevent their kids from becoming sexual offenders.

Help your children, both girls and boys, understand the intensity of their sexual feelings during the adolescent years. Discuss with them the difference between normal sexual feelings and abnormal sexual behavior. Have them read articles like this one about the seriousness of sexual crimes.

If your teenage son has any history of troubled behavior, never have them supervise a young child, particularly between the ages of 4 and 7. I’m not demonizing teenage boys, just acknowledging the reality that delinquent teens present a significant risk, sexually and otherwise, to young children.

Alert your teen to the reality that a younger minor, both from a legal and developmental point of view, cannot willingly engage in sexual acts. Consent implies that a child has a complete understanding of the risks and implications of a sexual behavior. A 6-year-old cannot voluntarily consent to engaging in a sexual act with a 12-year-old. Many kids misinterpret younger children’s cooperation or interest in sex as an indication that the sexual acts are voluntary. They are neither voluntary nor legal, and can result in serious consequences.

Help your child understand the long-term legal consequences for engaging in sexual behavior with a younger person. Sexual offenses are viewed very seriously, even if committed by a minor. Some of these minors are placed for many years on directories of sexual predators.

Look for signs of any unusual interest in your child wanting to be routinely around younger children. Continue to supervise, ask questions, and monitor your teen’s behavior.

Next week: Questions from readers

Dr. Ramey is a child psychologist and vice president of outpatient services at the Dayton Children’s Medical Center.