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What do I do if my teen tries to date an adult?

Question: 

Dear Stop It Now!,

I am not a parent yet, but I think about having my own kids and raising them to be safe. I remember being 16 and fantasizing about how cool it would be to sleep with a teacher and an older adult, and I had even been warned before about how wrong that is but wanted to do it anyway. I believe that an adult is always first and foremost responsible for taking advantage of a teenager and child, but what should you do if your child pursues an older relationship? Should you punish them? I believe you should educate them on the dangers, but i'm not sure if that alone is enough. What would be the best way to handle this situation as a parent?

Response: 
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Dear Proactive Parent-to-be,

It’s fantastic that you’re being proactive and thinking about difficult scenarios that may arise when you do have children, and looking for advice on how to respond to them. I'm so glad you've reached out to us because you’re asking such a great question.

Prevention Steps
You’re completely correct that you need to educate your child about risks, dangers, and also about how to stay safe. This is called Safety Planning, and starting these discussions is from a young age is important. It helps keep both kids and teens safe by teaching them throughout their development about healthy sexuality, body boundaries, and also about your own personal values regarding relationships and sex.

Be Clear About Rules ....and Consequences
Yes, a teenager may find themselves attracted to an adult, something you even experienced yourself. And yes, more often than not, nothing happens. But what if you find out an adult is trying to have a relationship with your teenager?

You need to clearly state what your rules are and why. If your child is 15 and they’re dating an 18 year old, I would encourage you to openly discuss the risks to him/herself as well as the risks to the other party if they were to engage in a sexual relationship. You may also want to invite their boy/girlfriend over, and perhaps their parents as well, to have this conversation together. Laying out what your guidelines are as a parent, and what consequences there are if rules aren’t followed would make it clear to both parties what may happen: grounding for your child, potential jail time and/or being put on the sex offender registry for their boy/girlfriend. If the other party respects themselves and your child, they will wait until your child is of-age to make this decision.

Follow Up With Action
If your child were to still engage in this relationship, I would encourage you to follow up legally. This would be no surprise to either party if it was made clear beforehand, and I would encourage you to stick to your guns. Teenagers haven’t stopped growing in body or in mind, and they’re not able to have fully mature relationships with adults, like adults. Having a relationship with someone before they have reached the Age of Consent is against the law, and it may emotionally harm your child as well.

Underage Teens Can't Consent
Even if a teenager looks or acts mature, or makes sexual advances towards an adult, they’re still underage and Permission From an Underage Teen Doesn’t Count. They’re older children who still need to be allowed to grow into adults so they’re able to consent and make adult choices. As the law is concerned, people are deemed adults at 18. That doesn’t mean that developmentally their brain stops growing on their 18th birthday, nor will they automatically understand all the ins and outs of adulthood. However, that does mean once they reach that age they’re able to make decisions – good and bad – on their own behalf. Until then, you are the one who makes these major decisions about their safety and wellbeing.

Important Conversations to Consider
If it were an adult pursuing your child, I would encourage you to talk to them one-on-one as long as there were no safety concerns. This may be an awkward conversation, but it is important nevertheless. Clearly state that having a relationship with your child is not okay, and ask that they respect your wishes. What they’re doing is putting your child at-risk and also putting themselves at-risk, and they continued to pursue a relationship with your child before they reached the age of consent, it would be considered child sexual abuse. You can end the conversation by firmly letting them know that if they do solicit your child in any way or engage in a sexual relationship with them, you will contact the police.

It sounds like when you decide to have children you will be a great parent, as you’re already thinking about some very sensitive issues and how to handle them. I hope this information has been helpful, and I wish you the best.

Take care,
Stop It Now!

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Last edited on: December 15th, 2016