“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Martin Luther King 

Imagine how you would feel if your child was in trouble and people stood around watching, but not helping. If we want our children to inherit a world that is fair, safe and supports others when they’re in trouble, we need them to help build that culture. 

Why take action?
Women are at a much higher risk of violence if they live in a culture that justifies or excuses violence against women and supports sexism, rigid gender stereotypes and gender inequality [#1]. If we want our children to live in an environment with less violence against women, they must learn safe ways of standing up and doing something constructive when they experience or see sexism, sexual harassment or discrimination

  • People are most likely to take bystander action when they know the behaviour they’re witnessing is serious and that others will support their actions. 
  • They’re less likely to act if they lack the confidence to take action, if they don’t think their actions will make a positive impact or if they don’t feel supported by others. 
  • Interestingly, it is young people (aged 18-34) who are most likely to witness sexism, but least likely to act.

Parents have a real opportunity to explain the importance of taking bystander action to young people, and helping them understand how to go about it. This doesn’t mean young people need to put themselves at risk of harm; rather, it’s about encouraging them to take action before violence has even occurred by calling out the attitudes and behaviours that create a culture where violence is ignored or condoned. It is important to teach your children that there are many ways they can be an active bystander while staying safe.

Talking points 
Try discussing and reinforcing these points with your children: 

  • They don’t have to be heroes and put themselves at risk. Kids have plenty of safe options that can make a big difference. They should always try to intervene calmly and respectfully, so they minimise the chances of getting into an argument or fight. Encourage them to look through our resources for young people about how to take bystander action.
  • Sexism, harassment and discrimination are not trivial issues. The more they are allowed to continue unchallenged, the more dangerous it is for women. Sexism, harassment and discrimination are significant components of attitudes that support violence against women, which can lead to severe consequences, including assault, rape and murder.
  • Every time someone speaks out against sexism, harassment and discrimination we build a better culture around us. Every time we allow sexism, harassment and discrimination to occur, we encourage a less fair and more dangerous culture.
  • Research shows many people want to do something, but don’t [#1]. Encourage kids to talk to their friends about the issues, to get a feel for the support around them and how they can make a difference as a group.
  • Know what you think, and have an idea of what to say when you do witness sexism/harassment, e.g. 

“Come on, you’re smarter than that” 

“Hey, we’re not cavemen anymore” 

“That doesn’t sound like you, I know you’re better than that”

“Why would you do/say that?”

“Are you saying sexism is a good thing or that people should just put up with it?”

“Imagine if someone said that about/did that to your mother/sister”.

  • Remember: every time you take bystander action it gets a little bit easier, and hopefully you’ve also made it easier for people around you to do the same. 

If we want future generations to live in a culture of fairness and equality, where there is no violence against women, then our children need to be prepared to challenge sexism, harassment and discrimination. This is your opportunity to encourage your family to be part of building that culture. 

Read our other articles about talking to kids and articles about gender and sexism. Also check out our articles for young people on bystander action.


1#: VicHealth 2012. More than ready: Bystander action to prevent violence against women in the Victorian community. Victorian Health Promotion Foundation (VicHealth), Carlton, Australia.