It’s every day news these days – a young woman murdered in a Melbourne park, a husband in court facing charges of murdering his wife, a footballer charged with the rape of a teenager, young girls (and boys are not excluded from this one) from primary school age worried about their weight and the extent of self harm and suicidal thoughts so great in young children and adolescents that the National Commissioner for Children establishes an Inquiry. In a sophisticated society such as Australia’s, it is hard to believe that in 2014 these are some of the incidents occurring on a regular basis. What are we doing so wrong that children and young people in our country are not safe from harm – from others or from themselves?
Modern, busy and complicated societies mean that people risk becoming disconnected from each other, so people don’t look out for each other in the ways they may have done in the past. They are busy rushing around doing the important things in their own lives, not having time to worry about what is going on for others. They might also feel like it’s not their business to be interfering in other’s lives. Our privacy can be important to us all yet it can also mean that when things are going wrong others might not be in a position to step in.
We sometimes hear that children and young people need to be taught respect in schools – that our core values and beliefs about how to treat others are getting lost. One wonders why this has to begin in schools and the behaviors of adults who behave disrespectfully remains challenged. They are, after all, the role models, for younger people and those with greatest power significantly influence the rest of us. Is there a link somewhere, for example, between the lack of respect politicians show each other and the lack of respect in our communities? Is that where it begins? Even if not, it could be a good place, along with schools, to begin to challenge some of the everyday disrespectful practices we regularly see.
When we think about young women and their bodies we can’t ignore the media, in all its many forms. Advertising and music videos have consistently now for decades shown women as sexualized beings. Young girls, and boys, watch these messages both subliminally and consciously. The power of these messages mean that children and young people can’t help but take in the messages without question. This then influences the way they see themselves and how they understand the ideal woman to be. When they, naturally, can’t live up to these unrealistic ideals, their identity, their sense of worth and pride in themselves is questioned and they feel bad about themselves. Enter right stage body image issues and self-harming behaviors as ways of coping with such negative feelings. Young boys increasingly are not immune from these feelings as well.
Where do we go then to challenge what is wrong in our society? What is needed to create positive change? Awareness campaigns might help but they can only go so far if the other messages continue. Each of us looking at our behaviors is probably a good start but who’s going to remind us to do that and help us take such a reflective position on ourselves? Schools might be able to go so far but students will quickly see the inconsistencies in the behavior of adults around them – perhaps they can lead some of this change though if they are well supported? Can social media help us? Despite the challenges it sometimes creates for us perhaps it can play a crucial role in questioning and raising awareness, holding each of us to account for our behaviors. Let’s help some solutions come our way soon – the lives of women in this country rely on it.