Over 75 per cent of young Australians indicate they have had a romantic relationship by the time they are aged 14 to 18. The Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) also found that a healthy relationship with parents and friends during teenage years played a key role in reducing the likelihood of being a victim of intimate partner violence at 18–19 years. 

Understanding healthy behaviours and relationships is key to the development of young Australians. This helps build positive self-esteem, how they interact with peers, partners, family members and the wider community. 

Over the last eight months, The Benevolent Society’s team in Maitland has been working with local schools to help educate young women on this through the MyRespect program.  

The MyRespect program 

MyRespect provides guidance and mentoring to young women in high school who are experiencing or at risk of experiencing poor mental health because of bullying, coercive control, family and domestic violence along with numerous other vulnerabilities that come with unhealthy relationships. 

The program is currently delivered by The Benevolent Society in four local schools around Maitland. It educates young women who want to take part on the characteristics of a healthy relationship with themselves, peers, partners, family members and the wider community. 

The Benevolent Society Maitland team members Isobel Jenkins, Robyn O\
Image: The Benevolent Society Maitland team members (from left to right), Isobel Jenkins, Robyn O'Dell and Molly Carlson.

Led by trained facilitators, Molly Carlson and Isobel Jenkins, MyRespect takes place through in-person group lessons consisting of up to 10 participants. Commencing in week two of the school term, the program consists of 10 different interactive lessons. 


MyRespect learning sessions

The first lesson is dedicated to establishing the ground rules for productive communication. The facilitators run through any considerations from participants, to ensure everyone feels safe and respected over the 10-week program. 

Subsequent lessons cover learning opportunities for participants. These include reflecting on their values, aspirations and priorities in life, discussing what their hopes for romantic relationships are. These lessons also help equip participants with skills like identifying the behaviours and qualities found in healthy relationships and unhealthy relationships, and how to practice self-care.   

During these lessons, time is also set aside for participants to anonymously list the ‘roses’ (highs) and ‘thorns’ (lows) of their weeks on post-it notes, for the facilitators to read through with the group. 

Robyn O’Dell, Team Leader at The Benevolent Society in East Maitland, said: “Teenage years are a formative period for the way many develop a positive sense of self-worth, how they subsequently perceive healthy behaviours and what a healthy relationship is. Having the right support to identify and practice healthy behaviours in relationships during this time is essential. It lays the foundations for continuing this into adulthood.” 

Instilling healthy habits and mindsets

The Maitland team have already seen a lot of positive results from the MyRespect Program to date. 

A very encouraging number of young women have opted to take part. This has led to engaging sessions with participants being more conscious of how they view themselves, the relationships they are in, and how they treat those around them.  

Facilitators Molly and Isobel have seen participants take the steps to obtain Mental Health Care Plans to continue prioritising their mental health. Participants have also shared how learnings from MyRespect have helped them recognise unhealthy romantic relationships they were in and end these. 

“MyRespect is empowering young women to have a strong view of change and identify unhealthy behaviours in relationships. We’ve seen participants come out of lessons with a new perspective of both past and current relationships they’re in, and an ability to identify unhealthy aspects of these,” added Robyn. 

“It is this change in perspective that highlights the importance of programs like MyRespect. We’re seeing participants engaging with the lessons and then putting their learnings into practice by being more conscious of all the relationships they are in.  

“The Maitland team are looking forward to working with more local schools in the region to help with this through MyRespect.” 

For more information on The Benevolent Society and the MyRespect program, please visit the website or call 1800 236 762.