The phone rings. It’s the school, accusing your child of making racist remarks. The first emotion is embarrassment, next is the question, where did your child learn about racism? Then, you wonder if you inadvertently taught it to your child? Did they learn it from peers? Did it come from television? Finally, parents begin the quest of getting to the root of the problem and fixing it.
Luckily, today’s children live in a world full of diversity and culture. The difficult part is learning and understanding the components of race and ethnicity. According to studies, cognitive development and maturity level, plus minimal encounters with those from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds impede a child’s ability to understand and comprehend diversity.
Generally, until school age, children rarely learn about other cultures, or how these cultures influence who they become. Studies show that children unconsciously differentiate their peers based on what they can see rather than what they know, and this does not happen because of their parents’ attitudes.
Children distinguish each other based on appearance rather than understanding, including some aspects of culture and ethnicity such as language, clothing, skin color, and even food. The child’s cognitive development plays a part into why they may express some racism before they actually realize what they are doing. As children age, they begin to notice other aspects of racism that may include socioeconomic status and how their peers respond to this person.
Taking a proactive stance against racism is a result of parents seeking out opportunities to spend time engaging their children in cultural activities and events. It is important for children to have as many positive experiences as possible with people of different ethnic backgrounds as well as learn the world is bigger than their own backyard. Along with a growing awareness of the world, children gain respect for other cultures through understanding.
Teaching children to treat others, as they want to be treated is a positive proactive strategy to avoid racism, which builds tolerance for all despite race, sex, or disability. Exposing one’s child to information through books, relationships, experiences, and videos helps a child develop empathy and understanding of others, as well as a since of belonging to a larger and diverse world.
Most importantly, parents must model respect and tolerance for all mankind because actions speak louder than words. Teaching children to respect all people creates future benefits for the child, and the world.
Branch, C., & Newcombe, N. (1986). Race related socialization, motivation, and academic achievement: A longitudinal and cross-sectional study. Child Development, 57, 712-721.