Taking Action against Prejudice
As a parent, don't ignore the prejudice to which your child may be exposed in the media or in his own experience. Keep in mind that you serve as the most powerful influence and role model for your youngster, and more than anyone else, you can mold his attitudes and his behavior toward others. Here are some guidelines to follow:
- Your actions toward the people in your life will lay the foundation for how your child relates to his peers and others. Examine your attitudes and the way you feel about people with traits and characteristics different from your own. Consider the different roles, relationships, and responsibilities within your own household, and what forms of age or gender discrimination may occur there. If you want your child to be free of prejudice, you need to demonstrate that attitude in your words and deeds.
- Nothing is more powerful in dispelling myths and stereotypes than person-to-person contact. Bring diversity into your own life. Make your friends and co-workers of different races and religions regular participants in your family's activities. Let your child experience that there are more similarities than differences among people. It is valuable to expose him to cultures and holidays different from his own: for example, with the cooperation of friends and neighbors, gentile children can attend a Bat Mitzvah or Passover seder, while Jewish youngsters can go to a church service or baptism. But your child should understand that these are only limited aspects of the differences and diversity that surround them.
- Children initially focus on differences in physical appearance. In language appropriate for your child's age, explain why people have different skin and eye color, hair type and other features. Discuss how differences in appearance are inherited from mothers and fathers. Talk about the diversity of your own child's ethnic heritage. At the same time, point out the similarities among all people, such as the need to be loved, the need for self-respect, and feelings of happiness and sadness, anger and pain, which everyone has at some time.
- Discuss your family's history of immigration to this country, or more recent moves to new neighborhoods and the adjustments that this required for the family. Talk to your children about their unique qualities, and the characteristics, feelings and dreams you and they share with people all over the world.
- Discuss the issue of prejudice with your youngster. Since many schools have curricula that promote discussions of diversity and prejudice, you may have the opportunity to reinforce this at home. Make it clear that diversity should be valued and that discrimination in any form is unacceptable. He should understand that teasing, insulting, rejecting, or diminishing another person based on race, religion, background, origin, economic status, gender or appearance will not be tolerated. Explain that there is no need for your child to build himself up by putting others down. (This may reflect a basic insecurity or unhappiness within himself.) Mistreating others can give your child a false sense of security that will produce anxiety when he is with others who are "different," particularly since they will invariably be able to do some things better than he can.
- If you sense that your youngster has negative attitudes toward others, or you witness or hear about any intolerant or discriminatory behavior on his part, do not ignore them. Address these prejudices by discussing why your child feels the way he does. Let rational thinking diffuse the emotional intensity of prejudice. At the same time, encourage positive values toward diversity and harmonious and cooperative ways of living. Love and respect your child, so he can come to value and respect others.
- Help your youngster understand the erroneous basis of stereotypes and hatred. Call attention to negative stereotypes when they appear in the media, including television (programs and commercials), newspapers and magazines. Some common ways in which prejudice appears in the media and even in schools include:
When choosing experiences for your child - including camps, schools, child care and extracurricular events - seek out diversity in racial and ethnic backgrounds among the other children participating.
Use the library, bookshop and video-rental store to obtain material about other people and their cultures that depict them in a positive, sensitive humanistic light.
Actively work to reduce prejudice in your life and community. Establish a household in which all members are valued and respected. Participate in your child's school to assure that diversity is valued and reinforced. Join political and civic organizations and attend multicultural events, both to change the world in which your child lives and to demonstrate your commitment to addressing the prejudices that exist.
If your child personally experiences prejudice, he will probably feel hurt and angry. Yet because of social circumstances or his own stage of development, he may feel unable to express these emotions. You need to encourage him to vent his feelings, and you must acknowledge their validity, before trying to discuss them with reason. A child whose personhood has been attacked through prejudice needs to be supported and have his self-esteem bolstered by his family and friends. Then you can discuss the roots of prejudice with him, and how the two of you believe he should respond.
- Presenting other people in stereotypical roles: male doctors, black athletes overly emotional women.
- Showing racial or ethnic minorities in only one role, such as Native Americans in traditional clothing, or people of color as poor.
- Equating different cultures with single aspects of that culture, such as food, dress or special observances.
- Always presenting minority individuals as the "different" person within a group, rather than as one of many within their own community.
Source: American Academy of Pediatrics