27th September, 2022
We live in an epidemic of violence against women, with one woman losing her life at the hands of a male partner or ex-partner every week in Australia. Violence starts with disrespect. When we excuse disrespect, it can escalate to aggression and abuse. Studies show that disrespectful attitudes take root in childhood. As parents, you can help to break this cycle.
Disrespect looks like pressuring someone to do something they don’t want to do or treating someone as though they are not as important as you. Disrespect can be based on differences between people such as gender, sexuality, skin colour, cultural heritage, age, disability, or religion.
Some things adults say unintentionally teach children that disrespect is OK in certain situations. Self-reflection is the first step. It is helpful to be aware of common excuses made for aggressive or disrespectful behaviour in boys:
• Downplaying the behaviour, e.g. “it wasn’t that bad”, “he was just joking”
• Accepting aggression as part of being a boy, e.g. “boys will be boys”
• Blaming girls for being treated with disrespect, e.g. “it takes two to tango”
Be prepared to talk to boys about respect early and often. Everyday situations are opportune moments for life-changing conversations. For example, you can discuss what an insult like, “you throw like a girl” says about boys and girls. You can also discuss examples from television or movies.
Ask questions about what your boys think and feel about disrespect and gender equality. Conversation starters might include, “do you notice any differences in how girls and boys are treated at school?” or “Have you ever heard a boy say something to a girl that you didn’t agree with?”
Support empathy by modelling this yourself. If you notice your child acting out, acknowledge their perspective AND reinforce appropriate behaviour, e.g. “I know you were frustrated, but we treat everyone with respect no matter what.”
Prompt your child to understand another person’s perspective with questions like, “how would you feel if you were treated like that?”
You can create a safer future for women and girls by stopping disrespect at the start.
For more support and resources around this topic, please visit https://www.respect.gov.au/resources/talking-about-respect/ or call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) or Men’s Line 1300 78 99 78.