Lani Brennan - What I would say to my 15-year-old self
Stop it at the Start is a national campaign aimed at reducing violence against women and their children. It encourages adults to reflect on their words and actions, and start a conversation with young people about respectful relationships.
Children are keen observers of what we say and do, and are greatly influenced by them. When it comes to teaching respect, every adult influences a child’s idea of what is right and wrong, whether they mean to or not.
We can all have a positive influence on our young people, and set the standard for what is and what’s not acceptable, right from the start.
Lani Brennan (author, mother and survivor of domestic violence) shares what she would say to her 15-year-old self about respect.
When I was young, I didn’t truly know what respect was. I knew about having respect for my elders because that’s how we were raised. But, at that age, I didn't realise that a boy my age should’ve been respecting me too.
I grew up around a lot of violence and alcohol abuse and I had a distorted perception of what a healthy relationship between a man and a woman should look like. People said disrespectful things, especially about women, and when you see and hear these things from such an early age, it becomes normal.
You learn to turn a blind eye to things – actions, sayings, and behaviours – or you don’t even perceive how harmful they are.
‘Boys will be boys.’ ‘She was asking for it.’ We hear things like this and accept them as some type of general truth, or as harmless sayings. We dismiss them as insignificant, never realising the full impact they can have on the minds of young people, and what it teaches them about relationships between men and women, about negative and positive behaviours.
Unfortunately, the normalising of disrespect towards women that I learned from those around me led me into some very unhealthy relationships and the horrible experience of family violence.
If I could talk to my 15-year-old self, I would say, value yourself more. Understand what respect truly means, and that we all deserve respect, including you.
Soon you’ll have your own children. Think about the things you say and do in front of them, strive to always set a positive example. This means being honest with yourself, and reflecting on your own beliefs – not just once, but continually throughout your life.
Don't be afraid to question and challenge the things you see and hear around you when it comes to disrespectful behaviours. Pulling people up or calling them out on their attitudes can be the first step.
Be the best role model you can be for your kids and other young people in the community, simply by leading by example.
Most importantly, never accept disrespect as just a normal part of life. Because it isn't.