Hugh van Cuylenburg, the Co-Founder and Presenter at The Resilience Project, discusses the importance of respect, and how we teach that to our younger generations.
Selfless, humble, kind, empathetic, respectful – these are just a handful of words I’d use to describe my father. They are also the same words that I use to describe what it takes to become the most powerful role model we can each be. It probably won’t come as a surprise then that when I’m asked who the most powerful role model in my life has been that my answer is my dad. He taught me the true meaning of these words and I know that if I want to be the best role model I can be then I know I must strive for the same.
I couldn’t love my dad more. To me, he’s the perfect dad – a shining example of what it means to be human. And now, when I think about my job as a dad, I have so much more respect for him than I ever did.
I’m so lucky to now have a four-year-old son of my own, Benji, and a one-year-old daughter, Elsie. It’s not easy being a dad; it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I’m sure there are countless fathers out there who, like me, get so caught up in the hectic day-to-day of being a dad, that we sometimes forget how significant a role we play in our children’s lives. As fathers, we need to figure out how to show up in the world for our kids, especially now.
We need to be an active participant in teaching our children the difference between right and wrong.
There’s a lot of research out there that shows that if attitudes of disrespect towards women and gender inequality are left unchecked in childhood, they can continue to grow in adulthood – even leading to violence. That’s why I pay close attention to the way that I speak about girls or women in front of my son. I want him to grow up knowing everyone deserves to be loved and respected. I want him to grow up to have happy, healthy relationships. Not only that, but I want him to be able to identify when something’s not okay.
It saddens me to think about the rates of violence against women in Australia. Hearing stories in the media about violence or gendered disrespect truly disappoints me. But it doesn’t have to be this way. I believe that as adults, we have a responsibility to influence how our children grow up to avoid outcomes like those in the news headlines. I always listen out for the ways that young boys talk about girls and I will happily jump in and call out a moment of disrespect even if that makes me the ‘unpopular’ dad. The benefits of intervening outweigh the costs, and if I don’t say something then who will?
This year I’m honoured to be an ambassador for the Stop it at the Start campaign. It’s a national campaign that aims to empower adults to role model respectful behaviours, call out disrespect when they see it, and start a conversation about respect with the young people in their lives. Whether you’re a dad, a grandfather, a big brother, a teacher, or even a sporting coach – the opportunity to positively impact a child’s life by modelling what it means to be a kind and respectful person is monumental, and it can start with a simple conversation.
Through my work with The Resilience Project, I’m very lucky to have met so many people from all walks of life, but some of my most memorable sessions are with kids. I love chatting with kids. By having these open and honest conversations, I’m able to encourage young people to practice empathy, which I think is the most important thing when it comes to teaching our children about respect and gender equality.
If you’re able to truly relate to how someone else feels, then you’re not going to treat them in a bad way. Teaching empathy means practicing kindness and respect regularly. When your child sees that you’re regularly practicing acts of kindness towards others, they will grow to understand this as the norm. It’s a lovely feeling to do things for other people, big or small, the impact remains the same.
When it comes to the impact of being a positive role model for our children, I’ve realised that the best way to influence our children’s behaviour is to practice what we preach. So, as a man and as a dad, I try to live my life doing everything in a kind and humble way because that’s what my father taught me.
If it wasn’t for my father setting a positive example for me in my formative years, I wouldn’t be the man I am today. And now, my own children will get to experience what it’s like to have generations of influential and positive role models shaping them into the person they’re destined to be.
Stop it at the Start is the Australian Government’s national primary prevention campaign to reduce violence against women and their children. Find more information, tools, and resources at www.respect.gov.au.