If you disrespect anybody that you run in to How in the world do you think anybody's s'posed to respect you. Respect Yourself, The Staple Singers

Not much has not been documented or discussed in recent weeks about respect, especially in the context of a woman's right to live, work & learn in safe environments and communities, free of violence, harassment, intimidation, and associated harmful behaviours. It is difficult to hear these stories but listen. We must. I firmly believe that we all know someone who has either been a perpetrator or victim of violence, albeit sexual, racial or gender-based. The sad truth in my position as a counsellor working with young people for over 25 years is an all to frequent & familiar story. And I say #Enough!

If we are to move forward as a culture and society that values everyone equally, we need to listen carefully to the brave young women (& men) who have stood up, and in turn, encouraged others to do so. Know their names; Grace T, Brittany H, Chantel C. These brave women have voiced the urgent and exhausting need of so many others to rise and together to find the courage to create change.

As educators, parents, and carers, if we want our young people to grow into the changemakers of tomorrow, then we all have a shared responsibility to support, listen, challenge & advise. As has been suggested by many school leaders, it is not just schools' responsibility to teach respectful relationships. The most effective means includes everyone taking a role: schools, families & young people themselves.

If you find these conversations uncomfortable, get comfortable with being uncomfortable. It may save someone's life, literally & figuratively.

This extract from an article by best-selling parenting tween/teen author Michelle Mitchell really resonated with me.

Over the years, I have sat with many teens and young adults who have struggled to talk to adults when faced with a crisis.  I have also sat with parents who have desperately wanted a road "in," regardless of the heartache, the cost, or the risks…We don't choose vulnerability in the big moments unless we have experienced safety in the little moments. This type of deep trust is created intentionally over time.

Following Mitchells' line of thinking, try asking your child, "How do you think I'd react if"…..

  • You were caught sexting?
  • You were procuring or sharing nudes?
  • You were frequently viewing pornography?
  • You take drugs or drink alcohol?
  • You lost your licence for reckless driving?
  • You went out with someone I didn't like?

These questions may lead to rich and meaningful conversations about behaviour, expectations, the law, values, and perceptions.

On the topic of Consent Education, another renowned parenting expert, Maggie Dent, contends that,

Consent education will not be enough to transform some of the social conditioning that teen boys [in particular] have experienced and may hold as truth. However, early childhood still needs to be happening right through to the final years of schooling. A key message needs to be about possible consequences due to the criminality of rape, cyberbullying, possession of child pornography (i.e., in the case of asking for nudes from underage girls), and the possibility of being sent to jail or juvenile justice, which can ruin their opportunities in future life.

When the family holds and models strong values around honesty, fairness, respect, compassion, and equity, it gives kids the most fertile soil to grow up with a decent character.  Yes, they can still make poor choices. However, the chances of them abusing others or deliberately choosing to demean, hurt or crush another will be less. This is why parents and educators need to challenge unhealthy stereotypes. We need to make it more of a norm to stand up and speak out, and I think the light being shone on this issue right now is an excellent opportunity to do that.

Our cultural challenge as a school community that reflects a broader societal context is to build empathy and compassion for everyone, regardless of culture, gender identity, or age. All our children need to be surrounded by loving, caring, and respectful adults who protect them from the negative impacts of the digital world and who make the time to teach and guide them to grow character and backbone so they can navigate this crazy dance called life – without hurting or harming anyone else.

Growing up is full of less than perfect moments. Our children need to be able to count on the trusted adults in their lives to guide them into adulthood so they can be the best version of themselves that they want to be and we hope for. 

Thank you, Grace, Brittany, and Chantel – together, your bravery in sharing your stories and those of other girls and women means that more voices will be heard, and the wheels of change have finally begun to move forward. Now we all have to step forward and play a positive role, and we need to start now.

If this article has raised any concerns for you, please reach out for support.

Acknowledgement & further reading

Director of Counselling