On Father’s Day, we honor our dads for the long hours of hard work they put in to raise us from newborns to adults—and for the many memorable moments in between: the shoulder rides and road trips, the pancake breakfasts and barbeque dinners, the goofy jokes and fatherly advice.
This year let’s also take time to thank our fathers for the things they give us that can’t be measured in minutes or marked on calendars. A good place to start is the gift they give of respect, both for ourselves and for others.
Respect, after all, is a key ingredient in healthy relationships, and its absence can lead to violence and abuse in the lives of children and teens. It’s a problem that’s much more common than we’d like to think. One in three adolescent girls in the United States is a victim of physical, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner. Those girls often suffer long-term after they experience abuse: Victims of dating violence are more likely than their non-abused peers to smoke, use drugs, engage in unhealthy diet behaviors, engage in risky sexual behaviors, and attempt or consider suicide.
By teaching young people how to treat themselves and others with respect, we can reduce the appalling levels of dating, domestic and sexual violence in our society. Parents—and especially fathers—are key to that education. As men, fathers can model positive behaviors that can counter influences that too often equate manliness with being tough and in control.
It’s important to counter the dangerous messages that justify or even support violent behavior. As living, breathing role models, dads can do that by demonstrating respect in their relationships with the girls and women in their lives, and by teaching boys that violence never equals strength.
Fathers, of course, aren’t the only ones responsible for teaching kids about respect. Moms and other adult role models who interact with young people—relatives, teachers, coaches, doctors and others—must also teach children about respect because it is a tool can help them young people build healthy relationships and protect themselves and their friends from abuse.
But teaching respect, and modeling good behavior, can be challenging, especially in times of stress. So to help adults do that, we at the Family Violence Prevention Fund have launched the RESPECT! Campaign with national support from Macy’s. This campaign promotes healthy relationships and aims to stop relationship violence through positive role modeling and respect education. It provides a wealth of resources to help adults teach children about respect in relationships at www.giverespect.org.
Essentially, RESPECT! encourages adults to engage in a kind of show-and-tell with children: model respect for yourself and for others, and reinforce that message in frequent discussions with young people.
The lessons should start early. Adults can teach toddlers and elementary school kids about respecting their bodies and protecting their privacy. They can show and tell them that, while disagreements are normal, physical and verbal abuse are never acceptable. The lessons shouldn’t stop as children grow up. Conversations about a sensitive subject like dating violence may be tricky with ‘tweens’ and teens, but they can strengthen the parent-child relationship and open up new lines of communication.
For ideas on how to spark productive conversations about respect, we’ve published a list of “Table Topics”—10 ways to start conversations with young people about respect at the dinner table or at other settings—at www.giverespect.org. We’ve also compiled advice on how to find out if your child is in an abusive relationship and other helpful resources about violence in relationships.
Oh, and one other thing: If you’re still looking for a gift for dad, forget the lawn tools and the newest electronic gadget, and give him the gift of thanks for teaching you how to respect yourself and others, and helping you to lead a safer, healthier life. At www.giverespect.org you can do that by sending a free e-card thanking him for being one of the ‘good guys;’ giving him a RESPECT! campaign bracelet to help fund anti-violence programs; or by making a donation to the campaign in honor of your father. Your Dad, and other kids and parents, will thank you for it.
Esta Soler is President of the Family Violence Prevention Fund, www.endabuse.org.