Children are inherently curious, and that curiosity extends to their bodies. It was once almost universally understood that when very young children were caught “playing doctor,” they were simply going through a developmental stage.

That’s not how things work these days. Now, parents have to worry that their child could end being prosecuted in court and branded with a sex offender label before they even hit adulthood. Do you think it couldn’t happen? It already has. For example, back in 2013, a Texas girl was charged with aggravated sexual assault over an incident when she was playing doctor with a neighbor boy. She was the ripe old age of nine at the time of the incident.

This is far from the only case. According to a 2007 report that cited Bureau of Justice Statistics data, 23% of sexual offenders were minors at the time of their offense. Around 3.7% of those minors were under 12 years of age. No later figures are available, which points to a disturbing lack of oversight on the issue.

It’s almost impossible to understand the consequences of being placed on a sex offender registry at such a young age, especially when the actions were more inappropriate exploration instead of overtly sexual. To protect your children, teach them early that they must never touch another person’s “private” areas, even if they’re just curious. Always stress the importance of personal boundaries and discuss sexual issues with them early and often until you’re sure that they understand that curiosity needs to be addressed at home — not with another child.

If your child is charged with a sex offense after “playing doctor” or “house” with a friend, find out how to protect their legal rights in a very complex criminal justice system.