by: E.B. Johnson
In the wake of Sarah Everard’s murder and the horrendous Atlanta shootings, we have once again been faced with a conversation about intimacy, consent, and respect. This week in The Guardian, experts explored how this conversation is being pointed at teachers and parents, highlighting the roles they both play in teaching our youth to be respectful of one another in their relationships.
We cannot afford to downplay the importance of this conversation.
The patterns that we continue to follow in our adult relationships are set and reinforced in adolescence. Our children are learning now how to connect with the people that interest them. They’re learning too where to lay their boundary lines, and what they are willing to tolerate in their relationships.
Your child’s bad relationships, their scary nights out — all of these start right now with the decisions you make for them (and for you). We set the tone that has the potential to ring through the rest of their lives. We can help them have a better future than we’ve designed for ourselves, and it comes down to teaching them how to hold one another in respect and in compassion.
There is no wrong time to begin teaching your children the value of consent and respect as it pertains to relationships. So many of us have ended in absolute romantic tragedy because we were not taught to do otherwise. We’ve settled for the bare minimum when it comes to finding a partner, and we’ve taught our children to do the same. Worse than that, we’ve lost sight of the fact that respect is a facet of love.
How we turn it around
As Topping writes, the general consensus is that we must begin teaching our children better lessons as soon as possible. And that’s true. Children begin internalizing their relationship beliefs the minute they begin to form a bond with us. We can’t afford to underestimate that fact, or the role we play in being a role model for our children and their relationships.
In order for the next generation to learn healthier ways to connect — we have to demonstrate it to them. We have to walk the walk if we want them to follow suit into a better life. Happy relationships, after all, are built first on a respect for self and then on a respect for others. How can our children learn to respect their partners when they watch us disrespect ourselves and those we claim to love over-and-over again?
This is how we’re going to turn it around:
- Changing (meaningfully) in our own partnerships so that we can model the foundations of self-love, empathy, mutual respect, and shared goals.
- Communicating honestly and openly with our children about feelings and experiences, encouraging them to do the same.
- Correcting our children with compassion when they are presented with inaccurate or false information that distorts a harmonious view of partnership.
Following these 3 directional elements, we can lead our children onto a path in which relationships are viewed differently. What a changed world it would be if we taught the youth of tomorrow not to settle and not to compromise when it came to respect and compassion in their transactions with one another.
Putting it all together…
Escaping a future lacking in consent and respect is going to require teaching our children a different way to connect. If we want them to have partnerships that bring them peace (rather than sorrow) then we have to model that behavior for them and demonstrate why it counts.
Now is the time to teach your child the art of self-respect. Teach them to love themselves so that they can love others more completely. Teach them how to set boundaries and how to recognize and respect the boundaries of others. We have to change ourselves meaningfully, communicate honestly, and correct them with compassion when they’re wrong. Using these standards, we can manifest a better tomorrow and a better understanding love for our children. We’re responsible, after all, for sending them out into the world equipped to thrive on their own terms.