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Preventing and Managing Risk

Preventing & Managing Risk

In order to help prevent the development of sexual behavior problems in children and teens, it is important that you – the professionals who work with kids every day – know what may put them at risk to develop sexual behavior problems and act out in sexually harmful ways, as well as what elements and approaches serve as protective factors to keep kids safe and healthy in their sexual development and behavior.

Decades of research findings have made it clear: children and adolescents need adult guidance in order to grow up to be healthy and happy, as well as to prevent their engaging in harmful sexual behaviors. The support and guidance of family members and other adults; age-appropriate education about human sexuality, development, and behavior; having friends; and having hopeful plans for the future are all critical to preventing the development of sexual behavior problems and abuse by children and adolescents. 

In order to best prevent sexual abuse by adolescents, however, there is simply no substitute for supervision by adult caregivers and the professionals in a child’s life. Engaged involvement by and with adults in the life of a young person likely goes further than any single intervention. Our ultimate goal should be that children and adolescents experience themselves as competent in a wide range of relationships and able to relate to others with empathy.

For more specifics, and tools that can help you identify, understand, and respond to risk factors and create and apply protective factors, take a look at these videos and resources we’ve created and collected for you. And let us know how else we can help!  

Resources About Preventing and Managing Risk

Two of the most important terms that are relevant in our work are “risk” and “protective” factors:

Protective factors: The conditions that might make a child or teen less likely to develop or engage in problematic sexual behaviors. On the individual level, protective factors include the development of knowledge and skills, as well as external conditions such as a stable family life or close parental supervision. At the institutional level, protective factors include, among other things, policies that mandate the delivery of comprehensive sexual education and a shared agreement regarding consent, At the societal level, protective factors include things like the availability of affordable health and mental health care and widespread training of professionals in how to prevent the development of sexual behavior problems in youth.

Risk factors: The conditions that may place a child or teen at an increased likelihood to develop or engage in problematic sexual behaviors. Individual risk factors may include things such as an unstable or inconsistent family life; exposure to abuse, including sexual abuse; or a lack of adequate supervision by the adults in a child’s life. Institutional risk factors include a lack of training about sexual abuse prevention for child-serving professionals and the absence of policies within youth-serving organizations to protect and educate children. Societal risk factors might include a lack of available resources for adults about recognizing and responding to early signs of trouble and the hypersexualization of youth in culture and media.



 The National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), produced a chart (See link at the bottom of this page) that breaks down risk and protective factors with regard to social environments.





Delmonico, David and Elizabeth Griffin (2013). Illegal Images: Critical Issues and Strategies for Addressing Child Pornography Use

Flood, M (2018). Engaging Men and Boys in Violence Prevention. New York: Palgrave Macmillan

Foshee, Vangie and Stacey Langwick (2010). Safe Dates: An Adolescent Dating Abuse Prevention Curriculum

Montfort, Sue and Peggy Brick (2016). Unequal Partners: Teaching About Power, Consent and Healthy Relationships (Vol. One)

Schladale, Joann and Therese Langan (2012). Stop It! A Practical Guide for Youth Violence Prevention

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2007). Preventing Child Sexual Abuse Within Youth-Serving Organizations: Getting Started on Policies and Procedures. 

My Post (1)

Source: Klaas, Perri. "Teenagers are Sexting--Now What?" New York Times. March 12, 2018. 

"Risk and Protective Factors for Children Engaging in Problematic Sexual Behavior," with Kevin Creeden, MA, LMHC.

"Protective Factors Linked to Healthy Youth Development," with Kevin M. Powell, Ph.D.


Children with Sexual Behavior Problems: Common Misunderstandings vs. Current Findings


Chicago Children’s Advocacy Organization - Offers many trainings available to youth-serving professionals on preventing child sexual abuse, including in Spanish.

Darkness to Light - Offers a prevention training program, including modules on the 5 Steps to Protecting Our Children (for all adults who work with children).

Enough Abuse Campaign - Offers extensive prevention resources for schools and youth organizations on healthy sexuality, including in-person trainings and written guides.

Stop Sexual Violence: A Technical Package to Prevent Sexual Violence - CDC Guidebook with general sexual violence prevention information for adults and youth.

"A Public Health Approach to Sexting," with Ryan Shields, Ph.D.

"The Impact of Pornography," with Cordelia Anderson, MA.


American Family Physician: Sexual Behaviors in Children: Evaluation and Management

ATSA Infographic - 5 Things: Preventing Harmful Sexual Behaviors in Youth

Building a Prevention Framework to Address Teen “Sexting” Behaviors

“Can We Prevent Adolescent Sexual Violence?” (2018)

Impact of Exposure to Sexually Explicit and Exploitative Materials

Impact of Media and Technology on Youth

Impact of Pornography on Children and Youth

Iowa CASA: Parents for Prevention (Broad resource that includes ways to discuss many topics with youth of all ages)

Prevent Child Abuse America - Understanding the Effects of Pornography on Children

“Teenagers are Sexting—Now What?” Perri Klass, MD. New York Times

Chiara Sabina, Ph.D., Janis Wolak, J.D., and David Finkelhor, Ph.D. The Nature and Dynamics of Internet Pornography Exposure for Youth

ETR Associates - Three Tips for The Talk – Or, How Can We Help Parents Talk to Their Children? 

Understanding and Responding to Pornography Use with Adolescents Who Have Engaged in Harmful Sexual Behavior: Developmental Considerations, Russ Pratt & Cyra Fernandes, Sexual Abuse: The Journal

"Talking to Families About Sexual Behavior Problems, Parts I and II," with David Prescott, LICSW, LCSW.




Common Sense Media - Provides digital literacy and citizenship programs to educators and school communities intending to spark discussions about smart media choices.

Online Safety Tips for Teens - Article with suggestions about making smart decisions online and cyberbullying.

National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) Prevention Module - Many resources for advocates and educators about preventing sexual violence.

"Preventing Problematic Youth-On-Youth Sexual Behaviors in Youth-Serving Organizations," with Joan Tabachnick, MBA.


Related PDFs: