It’s never easy being different from everyone else, especially if you’re picked on because of it. For that reason, encouraging tolerance in your teens should be paramount. They likely will come into contact with people from numerous cultures, races and religions throughout their lives.
The differences between each of us are what make us unique and special, however it’s also what children notice. According to the National Crime Prevention Council, children are aware of racial and gender differences when they are very young, and by the age of 12 they have formed stereotypes. While the council reports that tolerance education is most effective between the ages of four and nine years, it’s never too late to discuss the subject with your teen.
One of the most important things that you can do is to be a good example. If you overhear your teen or student making derogatory comments about another person because of his or her religious, cultural or other differences, make sure you address it immediately.
Teachers can help by encouraging children from diverse backgrounds to work and play together. Educating students about other cultures, races and religions gives them a better understanding of people different from themselves. Accepting these differences ultimately leads to greater tolerance. Instilling critical thinking skills, creating role‐playing, and cooperative learning are all effective teaching tools.
If school programs are instituted that teach students how to relate to others from different backgrounds and cultures they’ll b able to learn early in life how to appreciate diversity and relate peaceably to others.
Discuss with your teen or students why it’s important that they try to accept others. It’s critical to share with them your feelings of outrage at racially motivated attacks, gay bashing, or the vandalism of synagogues, churches, mosques, or other places of worship.
The United States was founded on the principle of tolerating individual’s differences. However, the way teens perceive and react to those differences can cause problems to arise. Intolerance of the differences between oneself and others allows for more specific problems like hate crimes, vandalism, assault, or bullying to take root and fester. Sadly a third of all hate crime offenders are under the age of 18.
Even when you’ve done the best that you can to help your children respect diversity and treat others fairly, it’s likely that at one time or another they will encounter bigotry, prejudice or even hate themselves. If your teen experiences any form of discrimination it’s essential to identify it as such and to talk about it with them.
Tips and Activities:
- Make sure your teen knows and appreciates his or her roots so they can share their pride in their heritage with others.
- Be careful about using stereotypical remarks and challenge those made by others.
- Object to ethnic, racist, and sexist jokes.
- Don’t judge others, especially for things they have no control over.
- Initiate classroom discussions of terms such as anti‐Semitism, racism, sexism, homophobia, and bias.
Ableism is prejudice and/or discrimination against people with mental or physical disabilities.
Anti‐bias is an active commitment to challenging prejudice, stereotyping and all forms of discrimination.
Anti‐Semitism is prejudice and/or discrimination against Jews.
Bigotry is an unreasonable or irrational attachment to negative stereotypes and prejudices.
Homophobia is the irrational fear of people who are believed to be gay, lesbian or bisexual.
Prejudice is pre‐judging, making a decision about a person or group of people without sufficient knowledge.
Racism is a prejudice and/or discrimination based on the differences in physical characteristics such as skin color, hair texture, eye shape, or language.
The National Crime Prevention Council offers publications, programs and training about crime prevention strategies.
The Anti‐Defamation League provides valuable information about how to discuss hate and violence with your children.
Teaching Tolerance, Southern Poverty Law Center subset, offers free materials, online news and teacher resources.
If you have a Facebook account, you can become a fan of Teaching Tolerance.