Teach Your Child to Celebrate Diversity
The next generation will see the rise of a new America – a place where more than half of the population is non-white and racial tolerance is the glue that holds us all together.
The U.S. Bureau of the Census estimates that by 2060, half of all Americans will be non-white, and people of Hispanic descent will make up more than one-third of the population.
The faces in school classrooms will reflect their Latin, Asian, European and African descents. But the future is well in progress; in fact, there are already more than 2 million people in America with a multi-racial ancestry.
For Lori Dryg, mother of two boys and a girl ages 11, 10 and 4, learning to get along with diversity is a part of daily life for her children. She says living in a racially diverse neighborhood helps teach her children how to be accepting of differences.
"We call it 'United Nations Street' because there are families that are white, Mexican, Asian, Latin and black," she says. "The kids just go out and play together."
Home is where children first learn about tolerance, says Dr. Joseph Cress, a child and family psychologist and author of "Peaceful Parenting in a Violent World."
"Parents should raise their children in an environment of acceptance of individual differences," Dr. Cress says. "Children learn by modeling their parents' behavior." Parents need to set a good example, giving them a foundation for tolerance of other people, he adds.
Even kids ages 10-15 say their parents continue to have a strong influence on their lives, according to the 1998 Roper Youth Report: The Mood of Young America. A majority of teens said their parents are still their biggest influence, but television and friends also play important roles in their lives.
This is important, since one-third of Americans admit to having some racist feelings, according to an ABC News/Lifetime Television poll conducted in 1999. Martin Luther King's dream of eliminating racism in America has yet to become reality.
Unfortunately, racism is not the only form of prejudice. People discriminate because of age, gender, skin color, sexual orientation and even because of weight. And this has many parents wondering how to raise their children to accept all the diversity that exists in the average American city.
Teaching children tolerance for others doesn't have to be difficult, according to one parent. One simple piece of advice to follow is "The Golden Rule," which provides good all-around guidance, says Julie Stone, of Des Moines, Iowa, mother of two girls, ages 10 and 14.
"I encourage my kids to treat all people with respect using the old Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," Stone says. "Usually I ask them to stop and think about how they would feel if the situation was reversed.
"I want my girls to be very open and accepting of anyone they may meet," she adds. That means teaching her kids tolerance for all kinds of people – no matter what their differences may be.
- Examine your attitudes and the way you feel about people with traits and characteristics different from your own. If you want your child to be free of prejudice, you need to demonstrate that attitude in your words and deeds.
- Talk to your child regularly about tolerance. Everyday situations can provide opportunities for discussion.
- Weed out stereotypes in your life, and talk to your child about how misleading stereotypes can be. When you see a negative stereotype in the media, bring attention to it. You might even hear your child repeat common stereotypes, including gender-specific occupations, for example. "Only girls are nurses," or "Only boys are policemen." Use these comments are springboards for discussions.
- Find ways to bring diversity into your child's life. Together, read books about other cultures. Attend multi-cultural events, watch television shows which spotlight other races and cultures, and encourage friendships with other children, regardless of their race or ethnicity.
- Make tolerance a priority in your life. Speak out against discrimination in your daily life and in your community.
- With your child, learn about your family heritage. Did your ancestors emigrate from another country? Were they ever discriminated against? Throughout our history, many groups have been persecuted because of their heritage, and helping your child learn about his ancestry will increase his sensitivity of and appreciation for differences.
- Practice tolerance. Show patience and forgiveness. Overlook the faults of others. Be flexible. Don't degrade others because they don't think, look or act the same way you do. Gently remind your children to do the same.