Ranges of sexual behavior in children, i.e., what's normal and what's of "concern"


This one talks a little about age differences, etc.

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Therapy Corner


Experimentation or Sexual Offending?

Pamela A. Dickey, Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)

How do you know when you discover children "€œplaying house"€ or "€œplaying doctor"€ whether it is natural curiosity/play or something more? There are a few questions that must be asked to make that determination. First, what is the age difference between the children? If there is a difference of three or more years in their ages, it is considered to be more than simple experimentation. Secondly, if there is unequal size/power between the children, sexual offending may be taking place. Lastly, if threats, manipulation, bribery or trickery are used to get a child to participate or comply, then sexual offending will need to be addressed.

Typically, same age children who are innocently experimenting will act surprised upon discovery by an adult. They may even giggle, but they don'€™t understand that what they were doing was not appropriate play until the adult labels the behavior as wrong or reacts with anger or shames them. At that point they learn that they were doing something wrong.

Children who are "€œcaught"€ offending on other children will often show shame or embarrassment, they might try to blame the younger child for the "€œgame", or will try to re-interpret for the adult what they saw. They have a clear awareness that what they were doing was wrong.

By law, sexual offending must be reported to your local Department of Children'€™s Services office. Sexual offending is learned behavior, meaning someone else has probably taught this to them and they may be at risk of being abused. Once children who have these problems are identified, then they can be helped; they can learn healthy interactions, as well as being protected from further abuse.


Pamela A. Dickey is Clinical Coordinator of the Children'€™s Advocacy Center of Knox County. She is a specialist in the clinical treatment of child victims of abuse. Her articles on child abuse and related topics appear in the newsletter and on this Web site,