What to Do When Your Teen Has Sexually Abused Another Child
Did you just find out that your child has sexually abused a sibling, family member, or another child? This is a nightmare scenario for any parent and one that no parent is prepared to handle on their own. Below is a transcript of a podcast where therapist Tiffany Silva Herlin, LCSW, and Shawn Brooks, the executive director of Oxbow Academy, discuss:
- Child-on-Child Sexual Abuse (COCSA) & Sibling Sexual Abuse
- Immediate steps parents should take after discovering that their teen has sexually abused a sibling, cousin, or neighbor.
National Sexual Assault Hotline
If you are a victim of rape or sexual abuse and need assistance please call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673).
* Please remember that this podcast is not a replacement for therapy, nor do we provide legal advice. Please always seek a mental health professional and lawyer for your personal situation.
Welcome! This is the transcript for our podcast for parents of teenage boys struggling with problematic sexual behaviors. My name is Tiffany Herlin, and I'm a licensed clinical social worker, and former therapist at Oxbow Academy. Shawn Brooks is also with us and he is the executive director at Oxbow Academy, which is a sex-specific residential treatment center for teenage boys.
While Oxbow Academy treats a variety of problematic sexual behavioral issues in teenage boys, this series of podcast episodes is specifically to address child-on-child sexual abuse or COCSA.
Our hope with this podcast is that if you are a parent who just found out that your son sexually acted out with another child, whether it be a sibling, a neighbor, or even a cousin, you can realize that you are not alone. There is help. And there are steps that you can take to navigate this very complicated and traumatic situation.
Please keep in mind that this podcast is not a replacement for therapy nor do we provide legal advice. Please always seek out a mental health professional and lawyer for your specific situation. All mentions of a clinical polygraph are used for therapeutic purposes only and are never intended or designed for legal use.
You are not alone
Tiffany: Let's start from the beginning. Imagine that you just found out that your child was sexually abusing another child, a family member, or a neighbor. Shawn, what is it that you want parents to know right now in this moment?
Shawn: I think, one of the key factors is that it's very natural to think you're alone in this situation and that there's no there's nobody to turn to.
However, the truth of the matter is that you're not alone. This issue is fairly common and even though less is reported about it, there's still a lot going on. Families are working to deal with this across the country. So number one, you're not alone and number two, it's important to take action, you know.
A lot of times, a stumbling block is it's a one-time event. And let's downplay this because the reality is, I'd really like this to go away. So let's move to do a couple of things within our home, have the talk, and then reestablish boundaries, and then hopefully this thing self-extinguishes.
That could be the case, but more than likely by the time an adolescent gets to the point where they're going to sexually act out with a sibling or a cousin or another adolescent or a child, they've already experienced a significant amount of sexual trauma and have developed arousal patterns where they're willing to risk. It's like a young man is not gonna wake up one morning and say, I think I'm going to sexually act out with my sibling.
This has been going on for months, if not, a couple of years, before they're willing to take that move and take that risk to engage in those behaviors. So as a parent, you need to recognize is generally not a one-time situation, and it didn't just happen.
Tiffany: It's not they don't just go from zero to sixty out of nowhere. There's a buildup.
Shawn: And they didn't like to stumble in into it saying, "I didn't know what I was doing."
I mean, that's kind of a common thing. And a lot of times that position alleviates a certain amount of anxiety because you think, well, it was an accident. But the truth of the matter is it wasn't an accident. It was plotted out, and it was an event that just is an accumulation of many things that led to it.
Tiffany: There's so much shame and so much embarrassment around this. As a parent, you wanna just say, you know what? Let's just get him in school. Let's just address this issue. We'll have the talk. And I really need this to go away because I feel so much shame and honestly trauma from it.
Shawn: Parents experience an enormous amount of guilt. And immediately they blame themselves.
And it's really, how do parents assuage their own guilt over this and be able to step back and look at the situation with new lenses and new eyes to say I got emotionally, (and this is tough) I gotta emotionally detach myself for a second and work through how we got here.
What were the leading indicators? What did I miss? And a lot of times when they confront their sons, it it makes things worse. It's more complicated because their sons will say it's it's A, it's B, it's C, or didn't know what I was doing. It was an accident. It's the first time… it may not be the first time.
Tiffany: There are so many white rabbits for them to chase.
Shawn: And so their parents are left going, what do I do with this?
With the lack of information that I have and knowing this event happened. Now I've got a child who's also part of this, in pain, and what does it mean for my child who's just been abused?
Tiffany: What does it mean our family now, that's now fragmented?
Child Sexual Abuse Statistics
Tiffany: A couple of things to keep in mind, I do wanna point out some stats that I was able to find on this that I think are important for parents to know if they're in this situation.
First of all, child-on-child sexual abuse comprises more than 1/4 of all sexual offenses that are being reported, which is quite a lot. Juveniles account for more than one-third of those known to law enforcement who have committed sexual offenses against minors.
Also, in groups and in a school setting, child-on-child sexual abuse is more likely to occur than adult sex offenses. However, about 68% of child-on-child sexual abuse cases occur in the home.
Parents Need Help Through This Process
Tiffany: So going back to what you're saying though, please know that you need help through this process as a parent because you're gonna be dealing with your own shame, your own embarrassment, your own hesitation to get help like you were talking about.
And I think it's really important as a parent to realize that your own biases and denial are going to be based on your history, your experience around this issue, and your trauma. If you have trauma around this issue, if you've personally experienced sexual abuse in your own life, this is going to hit all your buttons. And put you in a state of fight, flight, freeze, or fawn.
And when you're in that state, you're not gonna be making the most logical decisions. So again, it's going to be important for you to recognize as a parent. All these triggers and bells that might be going off in your head, and the fear and anxiety, like, you kinda wake up in this nightmare, and it's, "What do I do? And is this really happening? And what do we do next for our family?"
Common Reactions Parents Have Upon Learning Their Teen Sexually Abused Another Child
Shawn: A couple of things in my experience are problematic and the approach to dealing with it. Problem number one overreacting. Which is the easiest thing to slip into is catastrophizing them. I've now got basically a Ted Bundy or a Jeffrey Dommer in my home. So really going over the edge and and thinking of the worst possible scenarios or the worst cases.
So that's problematic because it really is a stumbling block for perspective. So this is so much easier said than done because most parents are gonna be like, okay, what have I got here? And it's really easy to move into catastrophizing because it's already catastrophic. So as a parent, it's like, I gotta step back I gotta be able to gather information, ask the right questions, find out how deep this goes, consider everybody that's involved. So overplaying your situation is not helpful, but also underplaying it is not helpful. So that is like, "Oh, it's nothing. It's not a big deal. I'll talk with my son."
Tiffany: "And I'll brush it under the rug."
Shawn: "I'll reestablish boundaries." Kind I don't I don't really bring it up to deal with it. I just kind of do a soft play on this and I downplay the the effect of what's going on.
You wanna find yourself somewhere in the middle where you recognize this as a situation that really needs attention. And as you go, it's like pulling back the onion. You start getting into more layers, and that will help you understand exactly how big of an issue this is.
A couple of scenarios that I've worked with is a family where they knew it was happening when their son was 12 years old. And the victim in the house was around 8. And they and at that point it had been going on for two years. That the older brother was abusing the younger brother. Okay? And they just for two years, they knew about it. Didn't do anything about it. Well, now the older brother is now 18. The younger brother is 14.
And because it wasn't really effectively dealt with, the wheels are now coming off the bus for the victim of this, where it's like, I've been a victim for years and years and years, and nothing was done to protect me. And the abuse just continued. The abuser just became really good at getting around corners, became more secretive, and used more manipulative tactics.
And so at that point, because the parents were more passive in their approach, they had a much, much bigger situation on their hands now that their son was 14. And he was also engaging in inappropriate sexual behaviors as a result of his own victimization that went unresolved. The parents just went, "Let's go have them go talk to a therapist."
Well, I gotta be honest. They're not gonna talk at this point. They're going to surface it out and they're only gonna talk about surface-level things and not get to the deep issue that's going on. And these types of scenarios do not get better with time if they're not dealt with.
So finding a middle ground and knowing, okay, this is a real problem and knowing what steps to take, but having a perspective that you're not overplaying or underplaying the situation.
Tiffany: Let me address a few things that you just said. First of all, when they're overplaying or catastrophizing. Again, you're in that state of alarm. Your nervous system is off the rails. It's dysregulated. And you're in that usually fight state if you're catastrophizing and freaking out.
So it's going to be important for parents to take a step back and address themselves, like as if, and we'll address this down the road more. But as if you are on an airplane, and the airplane is going down, you have to put on your own oxygen mask before you put on your kids. Which seems counterintuitive But you can't help people if you're passed out. So it's the same idea when a parent's in that fight, fight, freeze, and/or the fawn response.
If they're downplaying it as well, then they're not taking care of their own issues. And they're not gonna be able to help their kids.
And then this the third thing I wanna address for you talking about this family who the son is now eighteen, I mean, let's just talk for a minute about you let it go for so long and you're in that state of well, we're just gonna ignore it and hope it goes away. And now, the son's eighteen, what happens with that when they turn eighteen?
Shawn: Well, here's the deal. Depending on what state you live in, the statute of limitations on these types of offenses does not expire. So it could bounce back on him.
Get Immediate Help for the Victim
Shawn: On top of that, because the younger brother who was a victim in this scenario was never really dealt with, he took it upon himself, which children will do. He took upon himself the fault. Like, somehow this is mine. This is what I did. And I'm the one responsible.
And so the parents, really not knowing what to do understandably so, allowed him to actually be the one that took on the blame, feeling like it's actually my fault. So, littler kids when they're sexually abused immediately blame themselves, and they think, "I did something wrong."
So as a parent dealing with this, your primary focus right now is the victim. That victim needs to be loved and surrounded with the understanding that this was not their fault. Part of the aspect of sex-specific treatment is one of the most important aspects. It's called the clarification aspect. That is where we make it very clear that the victims were not responsible. And that's where the individual that had perpetrated, if you will, or acted out takes full and 100% accountability.
So parents, sometimes if they take the lesser road, and it's easier now, but it will be harder later to say, let's just pacify this out. Let's talk to the son, but they don't talk much to the one who has been abused.
And they're just like, you know, let's play that down. You're gonna be okay. Truth is, depends. Probably not. You can't make that assumption that you're gonna be okay, that you were sexually abused in some fashion. Either that A) you not going be be able to remember.
Trust me. They're gonna remember. It may not be fully cognitive memories. But the emotional aspect of what has happened will be retained in them and go unresolved.
And that is a leading indicator of them having many, many issues down the road when maturation hits. Because maturation is like this key element and the whole process where whatever sexual arousal has been developed, maturation just kicks them up, you know?
Tiffany: It gives them a green light and turns it on.
Shawn: So the scenario is complicated. It takes effort and energy, and you have to focus. And you really should be getting professional guidance. When something like this happens in your home, you have to establish safety, you've gotta understand the victim, and make sure you're not putting that victim in a situation where there's no clarification that they were not to blame. That they are okay and not to take down all the energy on themselves.
But you really need at some point after you've done your assessment as a parent, where do professionals now come in to help me?
Tiffany: But I'm gonna back you up just a bit. One thing I do wanna touch on though before we jump back is that parents need to act before their kid turns eighteen because once they turn eighteen they are legal adults. And the legal system is going to look a lot different.
And be a lot less unyielding as opposed to a minor.
Shawn: It's more possible that the legal system will see him as an adult instead of as an adolescent which changes the parameters of what the legal, ramifications could be. You know, I've had scenarios where it wasn't dealt with. It went down the road, and now the young man who was the abuser is 23 and in college.
And then the one that was a victim. It finally came out. It got reported, and now he's being pulled back in as if he was a 23-year-old offender and not a 14/15-year-old offender.
Behaviors Parents Might Have Noticed (or Missed) Leading Up to This Discovery
Tiffany: So my next question for you, Shawn, is what behaviors might parents have noticed or missed leading up to this discovery?
Shawn: Okay. So, first of all, accept the fact that an adolescent doesn't just wake up one day and victimize somebody. It just doesn't work that way.
There are leading indicators. There's behavior that is going on that parents will probably be unaware of, they're just not aware that it's sexual in nature. You could look at it like this, if your son was beginning to abuse drugs, you would see some behaviors in him that would be an indicator that there's a problem. So when it comes to, engaging in problematic sexual behaviors, it's generally going to be seen like this:
- Change of mood. So once my son used to be a very happy, go-lucky kid. Now he's down, and he's very he seems depressed or angrier. You know, he goes between everything's okay, and mood swings are just really clear.
- You'll see a drop in his personal hygiene, in how he's taking care of himself. That's a really big one, especially if your son was very clean and was very self-managed and it was important to him and you knew what it was because he was taking care of himself. And now he's not taking care of himself.
- Changing friends. We can talk about the effects that pornography has on this scenario. But once a young man is engaged in pornography to an unhealthy level, their friends are no longer part of their life.
Tiffany: They start to isolate more.
Shawn: They do because the shame becomes more profound. You're building this massive secret.
And again, this is important, that it's not just, oh, my son's watching pornography. It's gotta be, that he's watching pornography, he's masturbating to ejaculation on a sexual fantasy over and over and over. And much like a drug, what he's really looking for is the next dopamine hit that he gets from that process. And he needs more of a stimulant over time.
So the pornography where he started is not where they stay. They will start. There's always a starting point, and then they'll advance, advance, advance because they need more of a stimulant, to get to that point of masturbation to ejaculation.
Tiffany: Well, let me just add two things. I think a lot of parents that I've worked with at Oxbow don't understand or know the severity of what kind of pornography or the extent of what kind of pornography or how often their son is looking at it.
So that's one question I often ask parents when they call in or have questions, "Is he looking at pornography? Then what kind," because that's going to be a big indicator. And I think it's important for parents to know too that just because they are looking at, say, more deviant pornography, doesn't necessarily label them, and I'm gonna use this word and I don't use it lightly, as like a pedophile. Because their arousal template hasn't been established yet like an adult's has. Their neurons and their neuro-pathways haven't developed that deep road yet.
They more are just hitting puberty, and it's like giving a kid meth in their pocket. You know, here, let me put give you a phone and electronic mix and have access to whatever. These kids typically go all over the, you know, pornography web into the dark web in an especially if we won't dive too far into this, but especially if they're, ASD, autistic spectrum disorder, they are gonna try to find what are the limits.
So think it's important for parents to realize when they look back on what are themes leading up. Like, are they viewing pornography like you said? What kind? And then did not hit the panic button yet? If they do know what kind, because, it doesn't necessarily mean that that is going to be the road they're gonna go down.
But it's important to catch it early so that we don't establish those neural pathways in their brain to be aroused to that. Does that make sense?
Shawn: It does. And so part of the problem is the word pornography. As a society, that word is very common to everybody. Matter of fact, it's like a joke, and now it's played down. But then the problem is pornography is a 1970's word.
And today, and what if you look at the material that our youth are subject to now versus say when I was a young man or in the '70s, you couldn't even put the two in the same location.
Tiffany: They should have another word for it, honestly.
Shawn: They really should. And they've tried by saying hardcore pornography, but that doesn't even necessarily cover it.
So, part of what I wanna add to when you talk about the kind of pornography, another important is," How long how much are they watching and the duration that they're watching it and how much secrecy is involved?"
So what I've experienced is it gets more profound when more levels of secrecy are being used. Because it ends up being about getting away with it as part of the arousal process. Sneaking around, taking risks.
Tiffany: The more you put up walls, there's an adrenaline hit or dopamine hit that they get by trying to figure out it's like figuring out a puzzle. How do I get that hit next hit? And that's the hit that even comes from trying to figure it out.
Shawn: Or the probability of getting caught. So for those adolescents that say go to a public library, you just you just increase the probability of getting caught. But that's part of the arousal. So that whole secretive thing, that whole and at any moment, someone can walk around this corner and see me, that's contributing to their arousal pattern.
And that's why a lot of times parents are so confused. They're like, he got on his laptop in front of me knowing that I was right there and it was watching pornography.
Tiffany: Or they stole grandma's phone and looked up porn at Thanksgiving dinner. Like, what the heck?
Shawn: Like, massive risks. So one of the one of the things a parent really needs to do is evaluate the level of risk in the whole scenario.
How much risk was their son willing to engage in to either access pornography or, abuse a sibling or take those types of risks because the higher the level of risk, the bigger the problem.
Tiffany: And let's point out that aside, from pornography and the risks are willing to take on that. What other signs might they see?
A few that come to my mind, our parents will mention. I didn't think much of it, but they mentioned that their brother walked in on them while they were showering.
Or brother walked out with his towel off and said, oh, it was an accident and exposed himself. Or left the door open while he was viewing pornography.
Or they might have something like, they woke up and their brother was standing by their bed in the middle of the night. That's another often thing I hear parents talk to me about. And there was one more
Shawn: Well, there's one that has to do with the underwear. So you will find it's gonna be a really curious thing and hard to understand, but all of a sudden, mom's underwear does not make it into the laundry, or sister's underwear, or even brothers.
Tiffany: Or they are finding it in his room.
Shawn: Or they are finding it under the bed in the room. They're finding these things, and it's a curious thing as to why is this happening.
Well, because again, your son is now elevating the level of need for exposure to get that level of arousal. So it's a secret. He's taking underwear from people in the house.
Tiffany: Which has this sexual connotation to it.
Shawn: And it's not after laundries before. That's the part that they're like, that makes no sense. What it does, because it's it's it's not clean laundry. So I've had parents say, have a problem with him with underwear. We'll just buy him some girl's underwear, and it'll be okay. That never works because it's not about the underwear, it's about it belonging to somebody.
And so they take those things and they're taking the risk, and they don't (here's the fascinating part) they don't cover their trail very well. So Mom does a sweep of his room, and it's clearly right there.
Like, they're not really making a whole lot of effort because they cut that the idea of possibly getting caught is a contributing factor to their arousal.
Tiffany: And this may be a really odd topic for some of you listening to think like a kid stealing underwear. Let me help you understand the psychology behind it.
It's a path of least resistance. They may not be able to go up to a fourteen-year-old girl and know how to take the risk and form a relationship and they don't want to be rejected and also read all the social cues to lead up to a sexual event with that person. It's so much easier to go steal their sister's underwear or stepmom's underwear.
And because it's related to a woman, and often at times, they are removing themselves from the relationship. They're objectifying. Because that's what pornography is teaching our boys, is that sex isn't about a relationship and a connection. It's about getting this hit, it's about having a release. And it's about this oxytocin level that they're getting, which creates a connection, but to something that's an object and not real.
And so for a boy to go steal something like underwear and to masturbate to it, as crazy as that sounds, it's not unlikely for some boys to do because it's a path of least resistance to get their needs met without having to take the risk of doing it with someone else.
And it is a big red sign that they may be taking the next step with someone else eventually.
Shawn: I mean, the next move right after that will only satisfy them for a short period before they're gonna need more. And it's a small step to the more.
Like, I've I've been using little my sister's underwear, and now it's not the same effect anymore. So now it's just one step from my sister herself. But the underlying factor, as you said, is the sexualization of their sister or their mother or even their grandmother.
Tiffany: It really sounds crazy.
It does sound crazy, but the sexualization of anybody… what pornography does is, like you said, it puts in their mind that people are sexual, and their perception is that it's reality. So everybody acts like that, wants that, and this is sex for me.
The problem is, that becomes the value that they place on others. It's not how personally their relationships are, how connected they are with the persons they're engaged with, hopes, dreams, and desires are, how they manage themselves, how they see the world. That is not even part of the math anymore.
It's simply they are a sexual object and that's their value to me.
Tiffany: And that's how they can cross a line. For those parents who unfortunately are in the situation and I wish honestly, let me just say, I wish that no one ever listened to this podcast, and it wasn't a thing. Unfortunately, it is, and so that's why we've created this conversation in these really uncomfortable difficult conversations. Is because it does happen.
When parents are like, "Oh my gosh, my son acted out with his younger sister or a step-sister or a cousin, how on earth could he get to that point that doesn't even make sense in my brain." It's exactly what we're talking about, they're objectifying. They're removing the relationship, the connection, and they're making it sexual which creates a false attachment and meets that need of needing an attachment. And that's how they can that line to eventually act out with someone who's a sibling, a friend, a cousin, a neighbor who is like family.
Shawn: Exactly. Now, along the way in each one of those steps, there's another element here that's super important to understand, and that is the profound shame that each of these steps is having on your son. It gets to the point that they're in such shame that they lose perspective, and then now it's all reduced down to just my sexual needs to be met. My sexual needs have to be met.
And so that's how they're coping with that emotional stress of the shame.
That's another indicator of why school falls apart. Their grades fall apart. They can't concentrate.
Their mood swings are up and down. And the things they were engaged in before, they're no longer engaged in. It's really because the shame is driving them deeper and deeper into that despair if you will. They are in despair.
And to get out of it, they just need the quick fix, which is I need something to stimulate me so that I can masturbate to orgasm, and that is for a short time how I get out of this pit of despair that I'm in.
Tiffany: Let's talk just a few more… There are two other signs I want to point out to parents, is that they may be scared or not wanna be alone with this person. You may be like, oh, that's kinda weird. Like, hey, you know, I'm gonna run to the store, brother's gonna watch you, and they have this huge meltdown.
That's gonna be a red flag, or they may not want to sleep in their own bed. Again, it's not these individual red flags. It's going to be an accumulation that they're gonna see.
Shawn: You'll see behaviors between them change. For whatever reason, the younger sibling doesn't wanna sit next to them in the car, in meetings, or anywhere the family is having get-togethers, and you'll see the younger sibling trying to avoid the other one. You'll also see that in other children of the family, or neighbor children that they just really are trying to distance themselves.
And when they can't distance themselves, they start having emotional breakdowns. Because they are victims and that's how victims are trying to protect themselves.
What Steps Should a Parent Take To Make Their Home Safe Again?
Tiffany: So the next step, after you find out, what steps should a parent do to take and create safety?
A couple of things that come to my mind are obviously separate the person who acted out from the victim. In this case, we do look at things in kind of a black-and-white way. Someone who's the quote-unquote offender, versus someone who's a victim.
I do want to note that at Oxbow Academy, we don't refer to our boys, who are in our program, at all as offenders or perpetrators because they're it's so much more complicated than that.
Shawn: Those are adult terms coming from adult courts.
Tiffany: But what's important is to separate. Create safety. A couple of other things are to get cameras and make sure doors are locked. Add extra supervision, you know, go check your electronics, go search the browsing history, and figure out what the pornography usage is if you have no idea.
Shawn: Here's here's a problem with that. First of all, I agree with you that, creating safety is number one, but it's creating safety for the victim of the offense first. But that has to be the primary motive that is established in your home.
And then understanding what's going on with the son who was the aggressor. And getting more into the weeds about how did we get here?
Now, most kids that I've worked with are gonna be very resistant to talking about it. That very resistance to truthfully explaining to their parents. Well, here's my walk to this event that just happened.
They're so full of shame, what they really wanna do is they wanna play it down. They wanna say it was an accident. They wanna say it didn't even happen. I don't understand what's going on.
I don't remember. I'm confused. All these things are going to come out because they're already in pain, but you're asking them to wade into more of that pain, and they're gonna resist that.
So you've gotta protect your children. You've gotta separate like you said, and then you've gotta go to work. Now, I will tell you this most parents are not nearly as advanced on the computer as their kids are.
And so the boys that I work with are incredibly good and quick at searching terms and deleting histories.
Tiffany: Getting around firewalls.
Shawn: Like unbelievable. Like, there is let's just the first of all, I think it needs to be said, there are no firewalls designed that can stop this from happening. It doesn't exist.
Tiffany: It will slow the process down. Hopefully.
Shawn: By seconds. But, you know, so it has become really challenging for parents to say, I looked at his history. I looked at his phone. They may not know he has two phones. They may not know that he's borrowing a laptop from somebody else.
Tiffany: Or that he's looking at his Kindle. Parents are like, "What? You can find that on a Kindle?" You can get it on Xbox. What?!" Let me tell you parents, that if it has a WiFi connection, they can access it.
Shawn: And a big one is gaming devices. Parents need to understand that just because their son is on a gaming device, it doesn't mean he's not looking at pornography. What the boys I work with do is they will act like they're just playing a game, which they are. Generally, this is probably another problematic issue, which is they're playing a violent game. And then as soon as the parents leave the room, they switch over to pornography. And they can do it very quickly. They can just minimize and you won't see it. And then there are then the parent comes back in the room and they're back to gaming.
And they're back to gaming so they're mixing violence, if you will, a violent game with a sexual arousal media. And they'll be shifting back and forth and back and forth.
And so parents, it's tough to be a parent. It's also very tough to be a kid today in what they're exposed to, but parents must be vigilant. And if you're not savvy, or computer illiterate, take the device to someone that is.
Tiffany: Oh, absolutely. We're gonna get down to this topic.
So before you get too ahead of me, we'll get to it of what that even looks like. But I think the bottom line is to create safety for your whole family.
Make sure the victim feels heard and safe, and that the son is also getting support, but not overly, like, attention so the victim is getting in the shadows. Because that does often happen because parents are freaking out. But again, make sure there's safety.
And we'll talk more about what that looks like as well.
How Do Parents Know What is True?
Tiffany: So the last question is, how do you know what is true? I'm just gonna say this, initially, it doesn't matter what truth is initially.
You must create safety, then you can start the investigation. Your son's gonna send you on a white rabbit chase. You're gonna go down lots of holes, and you're gonna know that it's not true because the puzzle pieces won't match up.
But ultimately, it's not the parent's job to find the truth. The parent's job is to create safety, and then allow a therapist to help them with the sexual discovery and the history and figure out. So create separation, create safety, and then get the help you need to start this process of investigation.
Shawn: And I think it's so important that parents understand this, and it's shocking to me and maybe it's just because this is my work and I'm in it every day. It's shocking to me how many parents are like, well, it's okay that my son or my daughter takes their phone into their bedroom at night, or has access to their devices.
I don't wanna infringe upon their rights. And it's like, okay, I can understand a little bit of that, but to what degree do you wanna suffer damage to your family? Because you feel you're infringing on their privacy.
Here's my stance: You infringe on their privacy. You're paying for the phone. You own the phone.
Tiffany: They're in your house. Rule number one. This is your kingdom. You create the rules.
Shawn: No devices in the bedrooms at night. Lock it down. And now there are ways, you can just turn the wifi off. So, I mean, look, wifi and getting online is a part of everyday life now. We all…adults use it.
And now the schools are pushing it because that's where a lot of curriculum is coming and COVID really pushed the agenda way further down the line. So I get it, it's part of the requirement now to function. But in your home, you must infringe, if you will. I don't like that word, but okay. You must infringe upon the privacy.
Tiffany: Be accountable. Have your kids be accountable for what they're doing on their devices because it is an adult world that you're handing them that they have not often been taught skills, boundaries, or how to navigate.
I have a daughter who just turned twelve, and I just gave her her own device. And I'm learning that, like, Okay. It looks like we need to put a time limit because you don't know how to manage even just this one simple thing and being on it long enough.
And also, hey, by the way, your device is to text and to call people, not to spend all your time on this app, for example. So, as parents, it's our responsibility. And the importance of being a parent is just parenting. It's just flat-out parenting to own what your kids doing on their devices.
Shawn: I would ask you this. You're a mom. If a knock at the door came, and you open the door, and there's a stranger there, you don't know who it is, but they just walked in your house, walked in sat down next to your daughter.
Tiffany: Oh, that'd not be okay.
Shawn: And they started communicating, but you couldn't hear what they were saying and it was very secretive. You would be like, where's the police number?
Tiffany: Okay, now get out of my house.
Shawn: Now, what happens if you open the door and there are five or six people that you don't even know, and they just walk into your house. They sit around your daughter, and they're whispering. They're communicating.
And as her mother, you do not know what they're talking about. You would not stand for it. We had him a phone and you're just doing the same thing. You're allowing people in the outside world access to your child.
And so this is what it looks like now. Ready? (Mimics texting). That's what it looks like. Someone is communicating with your daughter. You don't even know who it is. So as parents, we have to accept that as a reality now. And we gotta hedge that.
Now, if you haven't done anything concerning this, and now your child is sixteen, man, and good luck because it has been set already. Now, to start saying, Hey, I wanna put limits on your phone. I wanna know who you're talking to. And you haven't done that and he's sixteen years old.
Tiffany: They're gonna freak out.
Shawn: Or twelve years old or fourteen. It's a fight. You have a fight coming. So for all brand new parents, if you have a child, if you have a baby right now. You better start prepping because the technology is advancing at a rate way faster than we can keep up.
Tiffany: My baby that I just have is already learning to swipe. I was like, watching her. Like, that's so crazy.
To end this section, I know we're gonna go into this a lot more, but I think it's important to note that to figure out what is the truth of what just happened, your son just sexually acted out with another child, there's gonna be such importance of a clinical polygraph and, a therapist working with your son to figure out what the truth is.
And that sounds scary. Yet briefly share your experience. We will go into this more.
Shawn: I just wanna when you say polygraph and there's a group of people that just, "What?"
It's like, okay, let's let's break this down.
The polygraph, okay, when people say that again, that's a word from the seventies.
And it's generally associated with law enforcement.
Okay. I'd like to say…
Tiffany: And adult offenders.
Shawn: I would like to say, please, let's just put that off the table for a second. Let's talk about clinically how and why it's being used.
The first thing to remember is it's really just biofeedback. It's not like the scary, you know, people have in their minds polygraph, and for whatever, there's a scene of some poor guy saying, "Try to I'm gonna catch this guy in a lie."
So I wanna, first of all...that's a tough perception to get passed on to parents. We don't use it that way. I would never support using it that way.
I've had people call me and say, well, why don't I just take my son to a polygrapher and polygraph him? I say absolutely not. Because it's not about the polygraph, it's about the process of getting to his disclosure.
It's about validating his truth, not catching him in a lie. So at Oxbow Academy, we made a stance. We decided, that for us to move forward, we have to know what's really gone on. And if I could I could write a six hundred-page book on every time someone thought they had the truth and they really didn't.
So for us, it's more like, look, if we're gonna be effective treatment providers, we gotta start with the truth.
Tiffany: Well, can I just say even as a therapist as much as I would like to think how amazing of a therapist I am and how much a kid likes me and trust me? There are times that as I've worked with boys, they would say flat out, tell me, I really liked and trusted you as a therapist, but I wasn't gonna tell you that thing. I wasn't gonna take that to my grave because I had so much shame, anxiety, and depression around this one issue.
Shawn: Which for them is problematic because that secret is going to bury them eventually.
Tiffany: You're only as sick as your secrets.
Shawn: We've heard that, and it's only gonna cause all the behaviors to resurface.
So you're so look, couple of rules. Number one is we know we never use the clinical polygraph until the student is ready. He has to be ready. The therapist has to be ready.
The parents have to be ready. Rule number two, you never ask a question that they don't know you're gonna ask.
Tiffany: We're not tricking them.
Shawn: No. And so, not rule number three is there's no punishment or negative consequence for a failed polygraph. Because a lot of our kids, about 12%, fail their first. And usually, it's interesting enough that you just don't know what it is that they're holding on to.
Most times, I will tell you, they'll finally reveal it and you're left going, "That was it?"
Tiffany: I had a kid who was like that too. I was like, we already knew that. I mean we were holding on to that. We knew that one.
Shawn: It wasn't big for us. Is huge to them. And sometimes though, Tiffany, it is a big thing. And it is it is like, okay. Without that little piece of information, we would get everything wrong.
Tiffany: Shawn, thanks for having this difficult conversation with me. I think it's gonna help so many parents who find themselves in this situation. Know that if you're listening to this podcast, our next episode is going to be addressing, "Why is Your Teen Sexually Acting Out?"
This is going to be more about you as a parent because your world just got turned upside down and you're in turmoil, and how do you take care of that? Again, they had idea of the putting on your oxygen mask before you put on help out someone is what we're gonna be addressing. So I think there are some important things to come. Stay tuned.
We're excited to have you with us. Let me rephrase that. We're not excited to have you with us. We know that this is an important conversation to have, which is why Shawn and I are willing to do this podcast, unfortunately, it is something that some parents are struggling with, and we want you to know that there's hope and healing and help ahead.
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