Topics and conversation starters to help you talk to teenagers about child sexual abuse, created in partnership with Raising Children Network.
Content has been adapted from raisingchildren.net.au with permission.
Talking sends the message that it’s always OK to talk to someone. You can talk about consent, respectful relationships and unsafe situations.
The information below provides guidance for adults having conversations with teenagers about child sexual abuse. The content has been developed for talking with children and young people aged 12 to 18 years. Encourage adults to use their judgement to determine what’s the most age- and developmentally-appropriate content for the child they’re speaking to.
All teenagers have the right to say what happens to their bodies. When teenagers understand this, they can also understand that it’s wrong for other people to touch, ask to see or take photos of their body, or do anything sexual with them, without consent.
Giving and getting consent is essential to healthy and enjoyable sexual experiences for teenagers. Understanding and exercising consent can also help to keep them safe from sexual abuse.
You can explain that most people do the right thing. But there might be situations where someone they trust – like an adult friend, a family member, a teacher or another young person – tries to touch them in a sexual way without consent. Or there might be situations where the child feels they can’t say no to something sexual, or they’re frightened and can’t leave the situation.
If this happens, it’s important for them to know that it isn’t their fault. And it’s essential for them to tell you or another trusted adult what has happened. This is essential even if the teenager has been told to keep it a secret or has been threatened, bribed, blackmailed or tricked.
Let the teenager know that you’ll listen non-judgmentally, believe them and support them.
Learning what child sexual abuse is
When you understand what child sexual abuse is, you can help teenagers make informed decisions about their bodies. Our What is child sexual abuse? page and Raising Children Network’s Child sexual abuse: what it is and what to do article provide helpful information that adults can talk about with teenagers.
When teenagers know what healthy and respectful relationships look like, they might be able to avoid relationships that put them at risk of sexual abuse.
It’s important to talk about knowing when a relationship is becoming disrespectful or unsafe and what they can do. For example, ‘It’s wrong for someone to force you to kiss them, try to get you to do something sexual, or try to be around you when you don’t want them to be. You don’t have to do anything that you don’t want to do, even if you’re going out with someone.’
Understanding respectful relationships
One way to help teenagers understand respect is by talking about examples that you come across on TV or streaming services or at the movies. Or teenagers might see and talk about their friends’ relationships as examples.
Safe and unsafe places and situations
It’s a good idea to talk with teenagers about what makes places and situations safe or less safe. Here’s how you could describe the difference:
- Safe places: ‘A safe place has supervision by a responsible adult. In a safe place, there are also familiar people who could help you if you need them.’
- Unsafe places: ‘An unsafe place is where you feel unsure, uncomfortable and can’t see other people around who could help you.’
Physical warning signs
You might need to remind teenagers about physical warning signs that a place or situation isn’t safe. For example, the teenager’s heart might start beating faster and they might feel sweaty or shaky. Or they might just get a ‘gut feeling’ that things aren’t safe. If a teenager’s body sends these signs, it’s important for them to trust the signs and get away from the place or situation.
Knowing who to trust and tell
If there are several trusted people in a teenager’s life, they’ll have someone to talk to about worries and concerns, including sexual abuse. You could work with teenagers in your life to discuss and make a list of these people.
If someone on their list doesn’t believe or support them, they need to keep telling trusted adults until someone listens and helps.
Conversation starters and opening lines
It’s a good idea to talk with teenagers about what to do in unsafe situations. Here are questions you can use to start a conversation:
- What would you do if an adult or another child you knew and liked did something that made you feel worried or scared?
- What would you do if I wasn’t at school or training to collect you and someone you’ve only just met offers you a lift home?
- What would you do if you felt uncomfortable at a sleepover or in a public place?
- What would you do if an adult started paying lots of attention to you and giving you presents and money?
- What would you do if someone tried to touch you in a way you didn’t think was OK?
It’s also a good idea to talk about what unsafe online situations look like and how grooming happens online. For example, you could ask:
- How can you tell that someone on the internet is who they say they are?
- Why might strangers start talking to teenagers on the internet?
- What would you do if someone you didn’t know started messaging you on social media, even if they said they were a child?
- What would you do if someone asked you to meet up with them or send them naked pictures? And what if they said they would show the photos to someone else, asked you for money, or said they would hurt you or someone else if you didn’t send them photos?
Other helpful resources
Raising Children Network has a range of useful resources to help adults learn more and have conversations with teenagers:
- Child sexual abuse: talking to teenagers
- Teens: sexual abuse & sexual assault
- Consent and sexual consent: talking with children and teenagers
- Getting and giving sexual consent: talking with teenagers
- Relationships and romance: pre-teens and teenagers
- Respectful and disrespectful relationships: pre-teens and teenagers
- Preventing violence against women: teaching children about respect and gender equality
- Internet safety: teenagers
- Social media benefits and risks: pre-teens and teenagers
- Teens: pornography & sexting