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Age-by-Age Guide on How to Talk to Your Children About Sexual Abuse

Sexual assault and sexual abuse are big problems that affect not only adults but children of all ages. 

It’s shocking, but 1 in 9 girls and 1 in 53 boys under 18 years of age are victims of sexual abuse or assault. LGBTQ+ youth are even more likely to be affected. Nearly 91% of cases are by someone known and trusted by the child or their family, which is why many children are afraid to tell or talk about it.

“Sexual assault occurs when someone touches your private parts or does something to them without your permission,” said Adeola Adelayo, MD, a practicing child psychiatrist with Banner Health. “Sexual abuse is when someone does things of a sexual nature that make you feel uncomfortable or scared. It can include touching, showing you things you shouldn’t see or making you do things you don’t want to do.”

Both sexual assault and sexual abuse can have long-lasting effects on children’s physical and emotional well-being. Read on to understand why talking to your child about these serious issues is important and how you can help your child be less vulnerable. 

Talking to your child about sexual abuse and sexual assault

It's natural for parents to feel uncomfortable about these topics, but talking about sexual abuse and assault with your child can help keep them safe. These conversations help your child understand body boundaries, what’s okay and not okay and give them the tools to discuss these issues. 

“Many parents don’t always talk to their children about body safety early enough, but it is never too soon to start these conversations,” Dr. Adelayo said. “If you can establish continuous, age-appropriate discussions with your child that fit their maturity and understanding, they will make it a habit of confiding in you for support when they need it the most.”

Children who don’t feel they can be open to their parents may become distant, isolated and insecure. They are less likely to confide in their parents about new people in their lives, inappropriate behavior they saw or experienced and if they’ve been sexually abused.

Not sure what to say or when to talk to your child about their personal safety? Dr. Adelayo shares helpful tips on how to talk to kids of different ages about these serious topics. 

Toddlers and young children (ages 0-5)

Even though young children may seem too little to talk about sexual abuse, it’s never too early to start teaching them about body boundaries and consent. 

Keep conversations short and simple. Use simple words to explain that some parts of their bodies are private and nobody should touch them there. Dr. Adelayo emphasized the importance of using the proper names for all body parts.

“When your child feels comfortable using these words and knowing what they mean, they can more clearly tell you if something inappropriate happened,” she said.

Explain that you can see them naked, but people outside of the home should only see them with their clothes on. Explain how their health care provider can see them without clothes because you are there with them and the provider’s job is to check their body.

Elementary school (ages 6-11)

As your child gets older, they may become curious about their bodies and may hear weird stuff from friends or on TV. This is an excellent time to talk more about body boundaries and consent. 

“By this time, you should have conversations about who is allowed to touch them and under what circumstances,” Dr. Adelayo said. “Teach them it’s okay to say ‘no’ to any touch that makes them feel uncomfortable and remind them they can always talk to you if they’re confused or worried.”

Model consent with your interactions with your child. This includes respecting their personal space, asking for permission before touching them and letting them know their feelings and choices are always valued.

It’s important to empower your child to speak up if they feel uncomfortable and know they can always turn to a trusted adult, such as you or their health care provider.

Middle school (ages 11-14)

Middle school is a time when children deal with lots of changes and pressure from friends. Your child will spend more time away from you at friends’ homes or activities at this age.

Go into more detail about privacy and how it’s important to ask for consent before doing anything with anyone else. Know who your child spends time with, including the parents of their friends and coaches.

Teach them to respect other people’s boundaries and not pressure anyone into anything. 

Talk about how social media can spread wrong ideas about sex and consent and remind them to be careful online. Children love social media, but so do sexual predators. Dr. Adelayo stressed the role of social media in exposing children to inappropriate content and potentially harmful interactions online. 

“Have ongoing conversations with your child about the risks related to social media use and how they can navigate these platforms safely,” she said. 

High school (ages 14-18)

Teens appreciate open communication and transparency but let them guide the discussion. Encourage them to share their worries and reassure them that you will be there for them no matter what.

In high school, teenagers may start dating and having romantic relationships. This is an excellent time to discuss healthy relationships, relationship boundaries, communication and consent. 

Ensure they understand that consent means both people agree and can change their minds anytime. Talk about how drugs or alcohol can mess up decisions about consent and relationships.

Empower your teen to recognize the warning signs of unhealthy relationships and encourage them to text or call you if they feel unsafe. 

Addressing LGBTQ+ issues

It’s important to know that LGBTQ+ children may have different challenges when it comes to sexual assault. Create a safe and accepting environment for your teen to discuss their experiences and seek support.

“LGBTQ+ youth may face discrimination and stigma, which makes them very vulnerable to sexual exploitation and abuse,” Dr. Adelayo said. “Guide them with love and not fear. Let them know they deserve respect and that you love and support them unconditionally.”

Make sure your teen knows where to turn for help if they experience sexual abuse. If they don’t feel comfortable coming to you, share LGBTQ-friendly support organizations, hotlines and mental health resources that are knowledgeable about LGBTQ+ issues.


As a parent, your primary goal is to protect and empower your child, especially when it comes to sensitive topics like sexual abuse and assault prevention. While discussing these issues may feel uncomfortable or challenging, it's an important step in keeping your child safe.

By starting these conversations early, tailoring them to your child's age and maturity level and fostering open communication, you can equip them with the knowledge and confidence to recognize and respond to possible threats for their lifetime.

For more parenting tips, check out:

Children's Health Parenting Relationships Sexual Health Safety LGBTQ