We fathers are most comfortable giving advice to our sons and daughters about school, careers and sportsmanship. But what if discussing a different topic altogether was a stronger determinant of their future happiness, safety and success? What if we made it our priority to have a conversation with our children about the importance of healthy relationships? We might find the topic uncomfortable, but we have to be the ones to discuss it with our kids, not just mom. It may be one of the best gifts we can give our families – and ourselves.
The ability to have and sustain a healthy, mature relationship, built upon respect and trust, is more important than many things we dads teach our kids. Yet my 28 years as a physician show few of us fathers formally teach our kids about such things. Our silence in this regard may leave them unprepared to prevent or avoid domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking by an intimate partner. I firmly believe that by talking about the problem and educating our children about healthy relationships, we can indeed reduce the violence and protect all children, now and later in life.
The fact is we all have to engage in this process if we are ever going to reduce the prevalence of domestic violence and sexual assault in our society. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), every minute, 24 people in the United States are victims of rape, physical violence or stalking by and intimate partner. Georgia is ranked 10th in the nation for the rate at which men kill women, in single-victim homicides, most of which are domestic violence-related murders. Not only can conversations help protect our own children, but in having these conversations, each of us then plays a role in addressing this issue in the larger community.
That is why I am supporting a new effort called NO MORE, which through a new bold symbol, is bringing together all people and communities that support ending domestic violence and sexual assault in our society. A key focus of NO MORE is to involve men in raising awareness for these issues.
We are accustomed to women talking about the problem, but men can have a more powerful impact on their sons and daughters, particularly because it is unusual to hear this message from us. And Father’s Day gives us the opportunity to initiate a conversation with our kids about what is healthy and unhealthy in relationships. In the process we can teach them that violence and abuse, power and control, are never OK.
The critical first step is to know the best way to initiate these talks. It may not be our natural style, but it is helpful to start the conversation with questions, rather than lecture with statements. And of course we should let our kids’ maturity and context guide us in asking these questions. For example, you may want to ask, “Have you read any articles or books about domestic violence ? Do you and your friends talk about this topic? What questions do you have? ”
Or another way to approach the conversation is to ask, “Have you ever been worried about the safety of a friend in a relationship? Do you feel comfortable offering help, even when you have only a suspicion of a problem, rather than proof?”
Plenty of other recommendations for the conversation exist, easily found at www.nomore.org. Dads can learn how to talk to their sons about healthy relationships at www.mencanstoprape.org and www.acalltomen.org/.”
So with this information, how about we fathers have a conversation with our kids this Sunday about how to create and maintain a healthy relationship, and how to identify the warning signs of a relationship that may lead to domestic violence. It’s more worthwhile than necktie.