Parenting Teenagers

Teaching our sons to respect women

Published: 21 Oct 2015
Teaching our sons to respect women

I wish I didn’t have to write articles like this. Let’s start with the stats:

  • One in three women over the age of 15 have experienced physical violence.
  • One in five have experienced sexual violence.
  • One in four have been emotionally abused by a partner.

Men are almost always the perpetrators.

  • Approximately 70 women are killed each year by a current or former partner.

Men are almost always the perpetrators.

  • One in four children in Australia experience domestic and family violence.

Again, it’s at the hands of males.

Hurt people hurt people

We are facing unprecedented challenges in our efforts to ensure our daughters are safe, and that males of any age stop hurting females. Attitudes of grown men – often emotionally wounded – perpetuate rather than reduce the ongoing cycle of aggression and violence. Hurt people seem to hurt people.

We can do better. We need to do better. The wellbeing of both our sons and daughters is at stake. If such attitudes continue, relationships will rupture, and lives will be littered with trails of tears. It happens in too many homes already.

Here are a handful of ideas for teaching our boys to respect girls, women, and womanhood, whether we are mums, dads, aunts, uncles, teachers, or neighbours.

Teaching boys under 5

Example, example, example

If we show respect we will teach respect. This means we respect our children, we respect other adults, and we especially respect women. It means that we do not call girls or women names. We do not ever hit or threaten to hit girls or women. It means we listen to girls and women and respect their opinions.

Speak kindly

This is pretty basic, but at this age, it’s all it takes to show respect. Say please and thank you. Never say things like ‘shut-up’ or ‘get lost’ (or anything worse), whether to a child, or an adult, and regardless of gender. Respectful speaking teaches respect.

Be helpful

Teach boys (and all children) to recognise when someone needs help or feels lousy, and show them how to help.

Teaching boys from age 5-12

The ideas from the previous age group are just as applicable for these boys. In addition, the following ideas are important:

Monitor media

Violent media is increasingly normal and has an undeniable desensitising impact on those who view it. While most 5 year-olds don’t enjoy violence, by the time they’re 9 or 10, they’re all over it. Sitting down with your 6 year-old (or any child) to watch MMA fights on pay tv exacerbate violent attitudes and model aggression. Allowing kids to watch Game of Thrones and similar gratuitous violence does nothing to help the cause. Games like Grand Theft Auto, Call of Duty, and many more glorify violence (including violence against women).

Some studies have shown that after playing violent games or viewing violent ‘entertainment’, people are less likely to show empathy or kindness. Minimising exposure to games and movies or tv shows that promote disrespect and inhumanity can help.

Pre-arm against pornography

The average age of boys’ exposure to pornography is 11. Porn teaches boys that women exist to be violently and sexually disrespected. At around the age of 8 or 9, we should be pre-arming our boys. Let them know that it exists, that people might want to show it to them, that others might think it’s funny, and that it teaches bad things.

Let them know they can and should talk to us if anyone tries to show it to them. Keep them away and do not normalise exposure to porn as something ‘all the boys do’. Such attitudes are part of the domestic violence and disrespect problem.

Talk about the issues

When you see disrespect, talk about it. Ask your sons how it leaves them feeling. How does it make the victims feel? What are better ways of responding to it? Such conversations promote empathy and perspective, and help our boys develop social awareness and conscience.

Teaching boys from age 12-18

In addition to all that is outlined above (particularly regarding media and gaming) our boys need to be taught the following in their teen years:

Teach intimacy

Our sons should be learning about healthy relationships where people love one another and express that love in healthy, functional ways. They need to understand more than the mechanics of sex. They need to understand context and commitment. When there is no real commitment, guys think there are no feelings involved. When we separate physical and emotional intimacy from one another, we provide fertile soil for sexual miscommunication and sexual coercion.

Set clear boundaries around porn

Let your sons know that porn is off limits. Teach them why. Currently, statistics suggest 100% of boys have viewed violent pornography by age 15. We must turn this around.

Set clear boundaries around sex

Our sons must understand that no means no. T-shirts and slogans that promote the idea that “no means yes, and yes means anal” demean not just the wearer, but our society as a whole. We are too casual about sex, and serious about consent. This may not be working.

Call them on sexism

When you catch your boys criticising women because of their maths or driving ability, or for any other gendered issue, call them on it. Let them know sexism is not cool and it is not funny.

I wrote recently that in spite of our best efforts, the most important thing we can do is to teach our children empathy. As we help them see the world through the eyes of others, we can promote a perspective that increases respect and understanding.

Ultimately, regardless of everything that we say, it is what we do that makes the biggest impact on our sons’ respectfulness. What the blokes in your children’s lives do will set the scene for ongoing behaviour from your sons. If the men in their lives think it’s ok to stare and whistle at women while driving, to abuse women and call them names, to watch porn and objectify the women in their lives, or to hit them, the odds are stacked against your boys if they have poor examples.

Surround them with good men. Be a great example. Teach them well. Guide them to empathy.

These are our best options. Let’s teach our sons well.


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