Writing by Dr. Russell Hyken

Last month, St. Louis and Ferguson dominated national headlines. As the story surrounding Michael Brown’s shooting grew, my 11- and 13-year-old boys had many concerns about the incident itself and their safety, but they also had more general questions about racial conflict, economic differences, and why everyone was so upset.

My wife and I were impressed by the intelligent and sensitive questions that our children were asking. But as we listened, I also started to think about how do we get our kids to a higher level of cultural understanding? How do we ensure that our kids get to know people as people and not as social stereotypes? And how do we, as parents, promote tolerance, acceptance and kindness?

According to the Journal of Marriage and Family Therapy, 75 percent of Caucasian families rarely—if ever—discuss race and cultural diversity. Many parents, at least on a subconscious level, believe that simply exposing children to different cultures is just as good as talking about it. We are happy to take our kids to an ethnic restaurant, but most are unable to speak about the cultural significance of the food or how geography impacts diet.

diverse-girlsBecoming aware of ethnic differences is difficult because it takes effort to understand the history. It also is in our nature to talk about how people share similarities as the differences are often ‘foreign’ to us. Parents unfamiliar with Chanukah, for example, may call it the Jewish ‘Christmas’ instead of explaining the historical importance of this celebration. Interestingly, young children are very alert to differences, albeit, on a concrete level. By the age of 6 months, babies can easily differentiate between skin color and gender. Toddlers make sense of the world by sorting things; and many will actually count or classify their schoolmates by appearance, including race, hair color or size. And by the age of 5 or 6, kids both understand and perpetuate stereotypes.

The best time to fight cultural stereotypes is (more)

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