What is the Flag System?

With the help of the Flag System professionals are able to correctly assess acceptable and unacceptable sexual behaviour in children and young people (0-18 years old). And to provide an appropriate response to this behaviour, based on healthy sexual development. 

Starting points

How can I assess if sexual behaviour is okay or not?’ and ‘How do I respond to (un)acceptable sexual behaviour?’ are very relevant questions these days. The Flag System offers a guideline to answer these questions. 

The Flag System uses six criteria for identifying sexual behaviour, four flags (gradations of sexual behaviour), a developmental chart with sexual behaviour (combined with gradations), and a number of cards with situation drawings and recommended educational responses. The Flag System intends to help professionals with assessing (un)acceptable sexual behaviour and the response to parents, children and young people.

Six criteria

Six criteria, four assessment categories and various coloured flags together with a developmental chart are used to assess and evaluate behaviour. The criteria used in the Flag System are:

  1. Mutual consent
  2. Voluntary engagement
  3. Equality
  4. Age appropriateness or developmental appropriateness
  5. Appropriateness within the context or situation
  6. Self-respect

The professional follows these six objective criteria to discuss the sexual behaviour with, for example, co-workers, and to decide which flag is right for this behaviour. Together the criteria form the ‘steering wheel’.

Steering wheel
Fig 1: Steering wheel
1/2 width

Four flags

Based upon the six criteria it is determined whether behaviour is okay (green flag), moderately unacceptable (yellow flag), seriously unacceptable (red flag) or very seriously unacceptable (black flag). An educational response is linked to the flags.

Categorising sexual activities and behaviour under a particular flag helps professionals make a developmental interpretation. Professionals can use the developmental chart as a guideline when categorising.

Developmental chart

The developmental chart is a table in which examples of sexual activities and behaviours are set out per age category (0-18 years old). This chart is based on recent research data, which describe the sexual behaviour of children and young people at different ages. Drawings and case histories help (professional) educators to assess and discuss (unacceptable) sexual behaviour amongst and with respect to children and young people.

Differentiated responses

The Flag System also provides professionals with guidelines on how to respond adequately to sexual behaviour of a certain coloured flag. These guidelines help the professional to support young people to experience their sexuality in a sensible and healthy way. 

Reacting appropriately to acceptable and unacceptable sexual behaviour isn’t easy. The traditional response to any sexual behaviour is either to punish and judge, or to ignore. But punishing prohibits sexual learning or burdens children with feelings of guilt. Ignoring might be interpreted by a child as support or acceptance. With unacceptable sexual behaviour this is not desirable. Therefore, carefully adapted responses for each type of behaviour (green, yellow, red, black) are developed within the system.

Overview of guidelines for the approach
Overview of guidelines for the approach