Tools to help cropped

Tools to Help

Developmentally age-appropriate sexualised behaviour

Sometimes we can be alarmed by children's and adolescent behaviours that are actually developmentally age-appropriate. Their stages of development can appear unusual.

Before contacting us, it is worth considering if the behaviour warrants specialised support or whether it could be developmentally age-expected sexualised behaviour.

The following are some guidelines to help parents/caregivers and family appreciate the range of developmentally age-appropriate sexualised behaviour that children and adolescents may engage in.

  • Tamariki at this stage have an intense curiosity about the world around them and about their bodies. Touching their own sexual body parts normally begins in early infancy and continues through the pre-school years as a self-soothing behaviour. During this time tamariki are generally not discrete and touch themselves in front of others.

    Behaviours may include:

    • Touching own genitals when nappies are being changed
    • Exploring differences between genders
    • Curious touching of the genitals and breasts of familiar pakeke and tamariki
    • Interest in watching people doing toilet and bathroom functions
    • Interest in doing and watching breast-feeding
    • Interest in own faeces
    • Likes to be nude and run around with no clothes on
    • Looking at own genitals in bath or when getting changed
    • If verbal, talking about differences between sexual body parts e.g. “mummy has breasts”, “Daddy has a penis”
    • Innocently noticing differences in private parts/ body parts. Interest in looking at other tamariki with no clothes on (e.g. in the bath, getting changed)
    • Experimenting with toilet training. Proud of toilet activity. Proud to transition from nappies to underwear
    • May want to change own nappy, underwear or go to toilet on own
  • During this stage, sexual play is part of infants’ and toddlers curiosity about the world around them as well as about their own body parts. Sexual play can be considered abnormal when curiosity becomes obsessive preoccupation, when exploration becomes reenactment of specific pakeke sexual activity, or when tamariki behaviour involves coercion toward others or injury to themselves.

    Behaviours may include:

    • May touch and/or rub own genitals
    • Exploring differences between bodies
    • Curiosity at nudity
    • Asks about genitals, breasts and babies
    • Likes to be nude. May show others their genitals
    • Interest in watching other people doing bathroom functions
    • Interest in having a baby or how a baby is made
    • May use “slang” words for bathroom functions
    • Interest in own faeces and orifices
    • Playing doctors and nurses, interested in looking at others bodies
    • Playing house, acting out parent roles
    • Interest in different positions for urinating
    • Interest in the toilet behaviour of others
    • May demand privacy for self when toileting
    • Plays dress ups and non stereo-typical gender roles
    • Sexual exploration games may begin; showing body parts to peers in a curious way and responding to pakeke boundaries quickly
    • May attempt to put things into their vagina or bottom - curious about orifices (nose, mouth, ears, bottom, vagina)
  • Behaviours may include:

    • Increased peer contact, experiential interactions and inhibition
    • Is likely to be more modest and less willing to expose self
    • Less interested in toilet play
    • Is interested in mutual investigation by different genders for practical answers to questions about body parts
    • Touching own private parts and experiences pleasure from this
    • Play may invite the game of “show and tell” or playing doctors and nurses
    • Giggling and talking about body parts, using swear words and telling jokes
    • Knows labels for sexual body parts and may use slang words such as diddle, dick, doodle, willy, boobs, titties, fanny etc
    • Understanding girls and boys have different private parts
    • Has limited knowledge and information about pregnancy and childbirth
    • Can be not interested by or drawn to other gender
    • Kissing and holding hands
    • May mimic behaviours they have been exposed to on TV, social media, videos, DVDs and the internet
    • Is likely to be familiar with, but much less interested in differences between sexes
    • Is involved less in the game of “show me yours”
    • Asks questions about sexual differences
    • Drawing genitals on human figures
    • Curious about looking at genitals when has opportunity e.g. bathing, showering, getting changed
  • In the lead-up to puberty tamariki may continue to touch their own genitals, evolving into masturbation, and they become more secretive about their self-touching. Interest in viewing others’ bodies continues although it changes from curiosity-seeking to game-playing. Latency-age boys also start comparing penis size.

    During this time tamariki become extremely interested in sexualised language and jokes. At around 9 and 10, tamariki begin seeking information about their sexuality, genitalia and their functions. Touching others’ genitalia usually takes place in a game-like atmosphere and involves stroking or rubbing.

    Sexual penetration, genital kissing or oral copulation, and simulated intercourse would be considered unusual at this age (When Children Abuse- Cunningham and MacFarlane)

    Behaviours may include:

    • Learning correct names for genitals but may use slang terms
    • Increased knowledge and curiosity about masturbation, intercourse and pregnancy
    • Understanding the physical aspects of puberty by age 10
    • Touching self and others
    • Mooning or “down trou” may occur
    • Kissing and exploring friendships may begin
    • Rubbing genitals against objects
    • Wants privacy when in bathroom changing
    • Engaging in games with same-aged tamariki related to roles
    • Talking about sex with friends, talks about having a girl/boy friend
    • Showing others their genitals
    • For some, periods may start
    • Using slang words for bathroom functions, genitals and sex
    • Navigating social media content
    • Asking about genitals, intercourse, babies
    • Drawing genitals on human figures with a fun, innocent, giggly intent
    • Explaining differences between bodies
    • Curious and taking opportunities to look at naked bodies
    • Kissing familiar pakeke and tamariki
    • Interest in breeding behaviour of animals
  • Being 10-12 years old is a unique age and stage for tamariki. It is often referred to as the pre-teens or pre-adolescent stage. Developmentally, this age group are focused on establishing relationships with peers. It is a time when tamariki are curious and can begin to engage in sexual activity with peers, including kissing, exploring intimacy, and touching genitals. Another way of exploring sex and sexuality for pre-teens of all genders is self-stimulation and masturbation.

    It is a developmental age and stage to notice body changes, experience puberty and awareness of physical, emotional, and sexual feelings. Body changes can create curiosity and at times, anxiety for tamariki, especially if they do not know what to expect. Some may also question their gender identity which can make this age and stage a difficult time.

    It is an age that tamariki may be interested in asking or seeking knowledge and understanding of sexuality issues. There may be a curiosity in viewing others’ bodies. This may be looking at images online including pornography to gain an understanding of sex and sexuality. Discovering this knowledge through social media or online information is not always the most helpful. It can be a distressing and confusing time discovering knowledge when not supported by safe pakeke, parents, caregivers and whānau. Whilst tamariki may not initiate conversations, pakeke are encouraged to create space to support and encourage korero.

    Behaviours may include:

    • Touching self and others (more likely in private)
    • Kissing and dating
    • Passionate kissing
    • Is interested in sexual content in media
    • Is interested in same age peers
    • Is shy about undressing
    • Making sexual sounds
    • Self-soothing, self-stimulation and masturbation are more likely in private.
    • May engage in mutual touching of each others genitals with same age peers
    • Noticing sexy physical feelings
    • May have crushes towards peers
    • May be very private and self conscious about being naked in front of others
    • Curious about whether their genitals are the same as others
    • Navigating social media and explicit material
    • Exploring gender identity
    • Uses explicit sexual language without always knowing the meaning
  • The legal age of consent in New Zealand is 16 years old, however it is quite normal for rangatahi to express sexual interest in different ways before this.

    Behaviours may include:

    • Sexual innuendo and flirting
    • Masturbating in private
    • Kissing, hugging, holding hands
    • ‘Going out’ & ‘Hooking up’ and relationships with same age peers
    • Having a crush on someone
    • Sexual thoughts about same age peers
    • Curiosity in looking at sexual images
    • Obscenities and jokes within the cultural norm
    • Reluctance to talk about bodies and sexuality issues with parents/caregivers
    • Increased sense of privacy from pakeke
    • Seeking sexual information from peers or online
    • Consensual range of sexual activity with same age peer
    • May choose to have exposure to R13+material
    • Making connections with the peers they are attracted to via social media
    • May engage in mutual touching of each other’s genitals with same age peers
    • Exploring gender identity

    In these situations, with good guidance and an understanding of clear, consensual boundaries, adolescents’ sexual behaviour will develop in a healthy manner. As an adolescent reaches adulthood, their relationships may begin to extend to more of the physical and sexual aspects of a growing intimate relationship.

  • Behaviours may include:

    • Seeking sexual intimacy
    • Sexual explicit conversations with peers
    • May choose to have exposure to R16/R18 material
    • Young pakeke may start to develop a deeper, intimate and more pakeke relationship with peers that extend to include more of a longer term emotional, cognitive, physical and sexual connection
    • May engage in mutual consentual sexual intercourse ( or oral genital contact)with same age peer
    • Develop healthy, mutual, positive sexual relationships

    In these situations, with good guidance and an understanding of clear, consensual boundaries, adolescents’ sexual behaviour will develop in a healthy manner. As an adolescent reaches adulthood, their relationships may begin to extend to more of the physical and sexual aspects of a growing intimate relationship.

What behaviours should I be concerned about?

Some of the below behaviours in isolation are not necessarily indicators of serious concern but they do indicate the need to seek further support.

These behaviours include:

  • Those which appear outside the normal range (as above) and out of balance with their peer group
  • Where they appear to be obsessed with sexual behaviour
  • Where sexual exploration is not mutual, or a preoccupation with touching genitals, breasts, buttocks of other rangatahi, after being told not to
  • Stares or sneaks to look at nude persons

If you notice these behaviours or any indications of force, coercion, lack of consent, or inequalities between those involved, you may need to seek further support.

Indications of these characteristics are:

  • Force or coercion: Where threats, violence, or bribery (money, treats) are involved.
  • Lack of consent: Consent implies full knowledge, understanding and choice in one’s actions.
  • Inequalities: These may include age differences, intellectual functioning, emotional development, knowledge and life experiences, power and authority, or physical differences and size.
Tools and resources

There are many resources out there to support you to keep tamariki safe, both online and offline.

Here is a selection of some of the best materials available.

What would you like to know about?

  • Tamariki learn a lot about sexual behaviour online.

    Pornography and other content seen on social media can be harmful to young people and give them an unrealistic ideal of sexual behaviour, too often resulting in harmful behaviour offline.

    There are safeguards that can be put in place on your digital devices to minimise repeat exposure to this content.

  • NetSafe has an excellent Parent Toolkit to fill you in on the risks and how to have conversations about online behaviour

    Updated resources from STOP are available in our Education and Resources sections.

  • NetSafe has established templates to develop an Online Safety Treaty.

    Download here

  • The ASK. LISTEN. RESPECT. video was created for rangatahi aged 11-16 to provide concrete examples of how to ask for consent, what enthusiastic, verbal consent looks like, and how to accept “no” as normal boundary-setting in relationships.

    Following on from the viral “Tea Consent” video, this clip is a conversation starter for tamariki.

    View video

  • We love this way to think about consent - imagine instead of initiating sex you’re making them a cup of tea.

    View it here

  • Teaching rules and boundaries is important - here's a great way to explain this to tamariki.

    View it here