"Is being a girl bad, Amma?" asked my 10-year-old son, with an almost guilty expression on his face.
"Of course not! What makes you say that?"
"I heard aunty [our neighbour] say that the world has become a dangerous place for girls. Why do people hurt girls? Haven't their parents taught them it is wrong to do that?"
My son fully appreciates and understands what I'm telling him when he sees the adults in his life doing the same things.
His question stayed with me for a long time. I realized that while I spent a large chunk of time going over academic subjects with my son, I was neglecting imparting life skills that are as important as algebra and the names of the continents. So, I decided to weave in lessons in respect, as the first chapter in the book of life skills.
Remember: the best way to teach any of these lessons is by walking the talk. My son fully appreciates and understands what I'm telling him when he sees the adults in his life doing the same things.
Lesson 1: Respect is a two-way street
The tricky thing about respect is that it is a two-way street. I need to treat my son with respect first if I expect him to do the same. I must remember that he is an individual, with his own likes and dislikes and respect his point of view (even if I don't necessarily agree with him). This is the best way to make him understand that people, irrespective of their gender, are entitled to their point of view.
Lesson 2: Respect starts with how you think
My son may say 'please' and 'thank you'. He may give up his seat or hold the doors open. That makes him well mannered, but not necessarily respectful. Mocking someone while opening the door for them doesn't make sense does it? Respect comes from understanding differences, but not passing value judgments. I am teaching my son that just because a woman's body is different from his own, it does not give him the right to pass remarks about it. He must learn to respect a person's right to dress, or to make any choice, the way they deem fit.
There is no 'his' or 'hers' when it comes to managing a house and doing chores and every task is equally worthy of respect.
Lesson 3: Respect is universal
I'm showing my son that respect is not reserved for only some people. So he needs to address our house help as 'didi' or 'akka' just like he addresses other older girls/women. He needs to treat every person with the same respect that he shows us.
Lesson 4: Break stereotypes
Break the stereotypes. My son needs to know that when mummy does not feel like cooking, it is OK for daddy to put on the apron. There is no 'his' or 'hers' when it comes to managing a house, and doing chores and every task is equally worthy of respect. The entire family pitches in and helps each other out.
Lesson 5: Understand acceptable behaviour
It is important for my son to realize that aggressive behaviour or bad language are disrespectful and just not acceptable, whatever be the situation. I try to keep an open channel of communication, so that he does not hesitate to come to me with his problems and doesn't feel the need to act out.
We see disrespect around us all the time, and so much of it is directed at women. For things to change for our daughters, we need to change the way we bring up our sons. Maybe it is as simple or as complicated as that.
A version of this article first appeared in iDiva.
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