Teaching children by how you treat your spouse

Published: Thursday, Feb. 14 2013 5:05 a.m. MST

Parents, especially fathers, can set a standard of respect toward women through their behavior, language, media choices and a number of other actions.

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Geoff Steurer and 8-year-old Andy were standing in a grocery store checkout line one day when the father noticed his son had been hypnotized by a collection of magazine covers featuring immodestly dressed women.

Steurer had seen that look before with his other boys. He bent down, put his arm around his son and gently turned him toward the shelves of candy as a teaching opportunity unfolded.

“You notice those women don’t have many clothes on and it kind of gets your attention, doesn’t it?” Steurer said to his son. “We probably ought to give them some privacy like we give mom when she is changing her clothes.”

It was an educational moment for young Andy. Steurer, a licensed marriage and family therapist, explained in simple terms that magazine covers are designed to grab a person’s attention and he didn’t know why the girls allowed themselves to be photographed as they undressed. He wanted his son to understand it’s natural for males to be attracted to females, but only in an honorable, appropriate context and manner.

“It’s a tricky balance because you want to set boundaries, but at the same time validate and allow our boys to understand that this is a God-given reaction they are having,” Steurer said. “If we do it gently, respectfully and honestly, I think they get a clear message that, yes, this feels good, but no, not in this way, not here, not right now, not with this person.”

Steurer’s experience is just one example of many methods that parents can use to teach their children how to respect the opposite sex. Parents, especially fathers, can set a standard of respect through their behavior, language, media choices and a number of other actions.

Step back

Jill C. Manning, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Denver, said the first key in teaching children how to respect womanhood is to step back and evaluate one’s personal actions and attitudes to make sure they are truly respectful.

“Modeling respect for others hinges on being aware of what we are modeling,” Manning said. “All who desire to have a more respectful community, society or family, step back and think, where have my attitudes and beliefs come from? Who has had the biggest impact on shaping how I feel? … We cannot give something we do not have.”

Love their mother

In her October 2011 general conference talk, Young Women General President Elaine S. Dalton stated, “The most important thing a father can do for his (daughter) is to love (her) mother.”

Manning said genuine love between a husband and wife can have "a powerfully positive effect on the climate in a home."

“It increases a sense of security and stability for children. It gives them a foundation upon which to understand the potential of a positive relationship,” Manning said. “When a father and mother are not respectful to one another, it sets up a template and framework for those children to be hindered in how they see marriage and relationships.”

Manning suggests parents might consider these questions:

  • Does my relationship with my husband inspire my children to want to be married in the temple?
  • Does it inspire them to want to live the law of chastity and have a full relationship with a spouse one day?
  • Does my relationship inspire young people in my ward?
  • "Am I one of the married couples that a young woman or man thinks, 'Boy, my mom and dad don’t get along well, but this couple, this is what I want to be like; that’s what it should be like,'” Manning said.

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