It's time to educate our boys about domestic violence
Educate our boys

One in three women experience psychological or physical abuse from their partners in their lifetime. 85% of sexual violence is committed by someone known to the victim.  About half of all homicides in New Zealand are family violence. 58% of all reported violent crime is family violence. 12% of NZ secondary school students siad they had been physically hurt at home.

As parents we are facing unprecedented challenges in our efforts to ensure our children are safe. But remember that attitudes of the future are based on experiences as children, so it's our job to give our children a good foundation of respect to start with. If you are looking for ways to teach your son about respect, try the below tips for each age group.

Boys under five

Lead by example

If we show respect we will teach respect. This means we respect our children, we respect other adults, and we respect women. It means we listen to everyone, regardless of gender, and respect their opinions.

Watch your words

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.

Lend a helping hand

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

Boys aged five-12

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

Watch what you watch

While most five-year-olds don’t enjoy violence, by the time they’re nine or 10, they’re all over it. 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. So think twice before sitting down with your six-year-old (or any child) to watch MMA fights that exacerbate violent attitudes and model aggression, or before buying games like Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty, which glorify violence (including violence against women). 

Pre-arm against porn

Porn teaches boys that women exist to be violently and sexually disrespected. The average age of boys’ exposure to pornography is 11, so by around the age of eight or nine, 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.

Boys from ages 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 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 percent 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. 

Call them on sexism

When you catch your child criticising someone because of a 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.

Be an example

Ultimately, regardless of everything that we say, it is what we do that makes the biggest impact on our child's respectfulness. What the blokes in your children’s lives do will set the scene for ongoing behaviour from your sons.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.

And remember that it's not just men who can be violent, so make sure you're instilling the same values in your daughter.

Are you a victim of domestic violence?

There are a vast number of organisations, support groups and helplines dedicated to domestic violence victims. Here are a few of them:

Research shows that violence is a learned behaviour. Let’s stop it now for the next generation and #teachourboys.



This article was written by Dr Justin Coulson for and has been adapted for

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