Listen: Dr Justin Coulson chats with Emma Mullings about how to teach boys to respect women.
Parents must start teaching boys about respect from a young age, according to Dr Justin Coulson, parenting author and researcher.
He believes there’s an urgent need for Australian parents to influence the next generation, with violence against women now at shocking levels.
“Sometimes we don’t really realise how enormous it is,” he said.
Perpetrators in domestic violence situations are almost always men.
This means there’s an urgent need to teach boys, from an early age, about having respectful attitudes to women.
A Third Of Women And A Quarter Of Kids Are Suffering
The latest figures show that a third of women over age 15 have experienced physical violence, a fifth have suffered sexual violence, and a quarter have been emotionally abused by a partner.
In addition, about 70 women every year are killed—by a current or former partner. And one in four Aussie kids are experiencing domestic and family violence. They’re “horrific” figures, in Dr Coulson’s view.
“It’s almost always men who are the perpetrators,” he said.
Respectful Attitudes In Boys Are Nurtured At Home
The way to raise boys into men who respect women, is to start early, according to Dr Coulson.
He has written a blog post on the topic, and says there are a number of different ways parents can build a foundation of respect into their boys.
These steps will look different at each stage of your sons’ development.
Lead By Example
For young boys under the age of five, you can start influencing the men they will become, by your example.
“Kids follow their parents,” Dr Coulson said. “If children are raised in a home where mum and dad drink and smoke, the children are at an extraordinarily high level of risk for drinking and smoking behaviour.
“If children are raised in a home where mum and dad scream and yell then those children will grow up and almost certainly scream and yell.
“And if children are raised in a home where love and peace and kindness are the norm then those children will do that instead.
“So example is critical.”
Speak Kindly To One Another
The way parents speak to their spouses, partners and children, will influence what children think is acceptable as they grow older.
“I don’t know where we get the idea that it’s ok to say things like “shut up” or “get lost”, whether it’s to a child or an adult,” Dr Coulson said, “or to minimise somebody’s place in the family.
“Regardless of gender, respectful speaking teaches respect.
Teach Your Boys How To Help Others
Dr Coulson believes teaching boys how to help people when they are feeling down, is an important step in raising them to be sensitive to others’ emotions.
“It’s important that they learn to notice when someone feels lousy, and show them how to help that person,” he said.
This may come more naturally to a girl, as females are wired to be more intuitive and responsive to emotional needs, but it’s a skill that boys need as well.
Monitor Their Media And Gaming
Once boys reach the age of about five or six, electronic media becomes an increasingly large part of their life.
Even boys whose parents set limits, will be exposed to media at school in the playground.
Dr Coulson said violence in art, whether in movies, TV, or games, gets boys accustomed to violent behaviour, and teaches them that it’s an acceptable part of life.
“There is research that shows that people who play violent video games become less empathetic,” he said. “They become less compassionate. They become less likely to help.
“And there is some association between violent video game play, violent media consumption, and violent behaviour.
“We’ve got to keep our boys away from this stuff, and teach them and guide them.”
Teach Them Sexuality Is Not Just Physical
Once they reach the teen years, your conversations can begin to touch on the area of sexuality and sexism.
In his blog, Dr Coulson says parents need to teach their teen boys that sex is about intimacy and commitment, and not just a mechanical act.
“When we separate physical and emotional intimacy from one another, we provide fertile soil for sexual miscommunication and sexual coercion,” he writes.
Have Conversations About Respect
As soon as boys are old enough to understand issues of respect and kindness, start talking to them about it.
Asking them how they feel when they are treated poorly, and then encouraging them to treat others how they’d like to be treated themselves, is a good strategy.
Dr Coulson believes parents should also take their sons to task if they display disrespectful attitudes to girls and women.
“Call them on sexism,” he writes.
Guard Against Pornography
Pornography is more accessible to young boys than ever, and is distorting their attitudes towards sex from an early age.
Parents have a mandate to guard against it, says Dr Coulson.
“We’re seeing increasing levels of sexual assault and sexual violence, particularly in schools, and particularly with school-aged kids,” he said.
In his blog he writes that parents need to clearly state that porn is off-limits, and why.
“We’ve got to do something about teaching our boys about pornography, and what it’s doing to their expectation of girls, and the way it’s teaching them all the wrong things about intimacy and sexuality.”
Link Them With Positive Male Role Models
For single mums, it can be harder to teach the finer points of manhood to their sons.
But there are ways to get around this challenge.
If your son doesn’t have a positive father figure present in their life, instead surround them with other male role models and mentors, from your family and circle of friends, who display kindness and respect.