Jo Stanley: Why I (constantly) talk to my daughter about respect

There’s no room for subtlety when it comes to teaching teens about respect, writes Jo Stanley.

My daughter is 13 and has just started high school. 

She’s an extraordinary person and from the moment she was born I have felt the greatest gift I could ever receive is to witness her unfold as a human. 

Of course, parenting isn’t all Taylor Swift singalongs. It’s hard. 

It can feel like you’re solving the most complicated puzzle, under the most extreme pressure, with the highest stakes possible. 

As a mother, my role is to give my daughter all the things she needs to be a happy, healthy and well-resourced human. 

Of course I want her to reach her full potential in whatever she chooses to do, whether in the home, classroom or work site. 

But most importantly, I want her to have healthy, happy and safe relationships.  

Respect is powerful – and it begins early

That’s why I’m really proud to be an ambassador for the Stop it at the Start campaign, which emphasises the importance of having regular conversations about respect with young people – both big and small –  because I understand the power it has in children’s lives.

For me, it’s absolutely critical that we have these conversations as often and as early as we can with our children so that it becomes a habit, and becomes natural to the way that we engage with each other.

It is the incidental moments you can’t plan or schedule that are critical to connection with your children.

My daughter and I have some beautiful big conversations about what it is to be a person (coincidentally often at her bedtime, which I’m sure is a ploy to stay up!). 

Her take on the world is so honest and insightful. But the little talks are just as important as the big ones. 

Children don’t like being a rabbit in the headlights, so it’s in those passing situations while we’re doing something else that I try to bring up respect with her. 

It might be something on TV or an incident at school. 

It can be one sentence in a conversation that started out as trivial, but I will pause and say: “Hey, let’s talk about what’s happening here.”

She’s actually said to me, “Mum, not every moment is a learning moment!” – so clearly I’m not being subtle! 

Snap up those learning opportunities

Children learn based on what’s going on in their own world. 

It’s really important to have those conversations in age-appropriate ways whenever you see the opportunity. 

But it’s not enough just to talk about it. We also need to model it in our homes.

I’d encourage people to have a go at having a conversation with their kids about respect because this is about their future. 

This is about them having the best relationships possible in life. 

We know that when we don’t have healthy relationships we feel isolated and we feel lonely. It affects our mental health. It affects our engagement with the world. 

How to talk to kids about respect

Children understand very early what it is to be kind. They understand what it is to treat someone well, and they know when people get it wrong. 

You don’t necessarily have to use the word “respect”, but you can talk about kindness, consideration, sharing, listening. Those are terms that children can easily understand.

As children get older, the concepts can get more complicated, but at the end of the day respect is a black and white thing. And it has profound impact. 

We know that gender inequality and violence against women is underpinned by a lack of respect. 

Even the smallest conversation can make a difference, and that positive change can be felt far beyond our own family, and in the wider community.

If you aren’t sure where to start visit, which has some really good resource like The Conversation Guide, The Excuse Interpreter and even activities you can take into your community to make a positive change for the future.

When we remember to talk about respect with our young people before there is a problem, we will make a change for the better. 

As a community, let’s come together to take action and stop it at the start. 

Jo Stanley is an ambassador for Stop it at the Start, a national campaign to reduce violence against women and their children. Catch Jo on The House of Wellness TV show at 2pm on Fridays and noon on Sundays on the Seven Network, and on The House of Wellness Radio show on the Nine Radio Network on Sundays.