Background: The perpetration of Harmful Sexual Behaviour (HSB) by children and adolescents is a significant issue within society. Upon identification, young people with HSB typically engage in formal intervention to address risk factors and prevent recidivism. The involvement of parents in their child’s intervention is considered imperative for a successful outcome. However, the discovery of HSB has a pervasive and ongoing negative impact on parents. An in-depth understanding of parental experiences is warranted in order to inform the development of appropriate supports to ameliorate distress and promote adjustment.
Objective: The purpose of this study was to provide an in-depth description of the lived experiences of parents whose children had perpetrated HSB. Specifically, this study aims to expand current understanding of the impact of HSB on parents, in particular exploring how parents come to terms with this discovery and move forward in their parental role.
Method: An Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) approach was employed. In-depth interviews were conducted with six parents whose children had perpetrated HSB.
Results: Four superordinate themes were developed from the analysis, namely; parental experiences relating to the trauma of discovery; coming to terms with HSB and moving forward; coping alone and experiences of stigma and shame. One superordinate theme, ‘Coming to Terms with HSB and Moving Forward’ was chosen to be presented in the findings. This theme described participants’ struggle to come to terms with their child’s behaviour and the mechanisms they employed to make sense of this. While parents appeared to come to terms with their child’s behaviour through a process of meaning making, they continued to experience ongoing mistrust and a fear of reoccurrence. Participants’ accounts appear to align with theories of trauma and meaning making processes.
Conclusion: The findings highlight the need for ongoing support for parents as they struggle to come to terms with their child’s HSB and to integrate this experience into their lives. Implications and recommendations for professional practice and future research are outlined.