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Unintentional Heredity

Posted By David Streight, Tuesday, May 26, 2015
Updated: Tuesday, May 19, 2015

 Mother holding child on her shoulders

Johnny has his dad's hair,
his mom's nose, and
the same fears as both his parents 

The last issue of Parenting for Moral Growth focused on helping children deal with fears of terrorism. Some of our Muslim friends were quick to point out that all three of the terrorist incidents we provided as examples were acts by extremists claiming to be Muslims. We might have unconsciously reinforced a stereotype, which was far from our intentions.

It is very easy for kids to internalize some of the fears we hold, even unconsciously. We nevertheless have a responsibility as parents to examine our underlying stereotypes and to help our kids process assumptions as well. Here are a few things that might help begin a dialog with older children: 

Examining the possibility of a media bias

We have to keep in mind that mass media in North America is entertainment, and thus subject to viewer ratings; media outlets have an incentive to select topics that they know will attract an audience. Stories that enforce the dominant "us vs. them" paradigm are always a popular subject. Consider the following:

  • The majority of the terrorism that Europe has experienced in recent decades is perpetrated by separatists, not by Islamic fundamentalists, despite the enduring coverage of events. 1
  • Lest you think there is a different story in North America, terrorists claiming to be Muslims have killed only 37 people in the United States since 9/11. That is 37 people too many, but an extremely small number when put beside the mass murders in shopping centers, movie theaters, schools and other places, and indeed in comparison to the 190,000 other murders that have taken place in the United States since September 2001. 2

Muslims worldwide are enduring in their calls for peace

We occasionally hear people, especially certain radio or television figures, say "Why aren't Muslims denouncing terrorism?" Muslims--both famous and less well known, and both individually and as organized groups--have frequently and regularly both denounced terrorism and called for peace, harmony, and understanding. Our not hearing their calls is due to the way our media works: if an organization of a thousand Muslims makes a call for peace, and one crazy person plants a bomb, even one that does not causes bodily harm, only the sensational act makes it to the front page.

Without counting the numerous Muslim statements for peace that came after the September 11th attacks, here are just a few from more recent years. Many of the below come via the website of sociologist Charles Kurzman, where additional statements are documented:

  1. July 10, 2007. The Islamic Society of North America condemned acts of terrorism that had taken place in Glasgow, London, and Yemen. The Society "sympathized with the victims of these senseless attacks and offer(ed) heartfelt condolences to the families who lost their dear ones."
  2. July, 2005. Two hundred Islamic scholars from 50 countries at a conference in Jordan drafted "The Amman Message." The message was later endorsed by hundreds of other Islamic scholars. The Message said in part: "Assault upon the life of a human being, be it murder, injury or threat, is an assault upon the right to life among all human beings. It is among the gravest of sins; for human life is the basis for the prosperity of humanity."
  3. That same month (July, 2005), more than 500 British Muslim scholars, clerics, and imams signed a document affirming that "Islam strictly, strongly, and severely condemns the use of violence and the destruction of innocent lives. There is neither place nor justification in Islam for extremism, fanaticism, or terrorism."
  4. Ontario consultants on religious tolerance has documented two dozen statements by prominent Muslims, and Muslim groups over the past several years, all against violence and terrorism.
  5. A more recent example comes from website of the Vatican Radio, in July of 2014: "Two of the leading voices in the Muslim world denounced the persecution of Christians in Iraq, at the hands of extremists proclaiming a caliphate under the name Islamic State...The most explicit condemnation came from Iyad Ameen Madani, the Secretary General for the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the group representing 57 countries, and 1.4 billion Muslims."

The holy texts of Islam promote the same peace that many other major religions do

We only have to look to recent history to see examples of all types of people who have used dogma to justify horrendous violence towards some "glorious end"-Fascists, Communists, Christians, etc. In fact, the word Islam is an Arabic word that comes from the same root word as salaam- the Arabic word for peace. Islam means submission to what God wants and doing what God wants us to do, which is to build community and take care of the poor and the disadvantaged, as well as the environment. Islam's religious teachings and texts are full of messages about peace. Nearly every chapter in the Qur'an begins with the words "In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful." These words, as well as a host of others in the Qur'an, reinforce the importance of caring for others.

The hadith are accounts of what Prophet Muhammad did and said, and are considered the best source of how to live one's life as a Muslim. The hadith are important because Muslims are supposed to try to live their lives the way the Prophet did; he was the perfect example of living a life according to God's wishes. Muhammad was famous for his kindness and his generosity; he married a wealthy widow when he was in his 20s but, precisely because of the way he shared his kindness with those around him, he was no longer wealthy when he died.

Young people hearing things like these from people they know and trust have a better chance of entering a world already full of challenges with a more balanced, sensitive, and just view than some media outlets currently allow. 

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Talking to Kids About Terrorism

Posted By Julie Stevens, Tuesday, February 24, 2015
Updated: Tuesday, February 17, 2015

 

Lately world news has been replete with stories of violence perpetrated upon civilians by terrorists. The kidnapping of Nigerian schoolgirls by Boko Haram and the attack by the Taliban on a school in Peshawar were especially appalling given the numbers of children abducted and/or murdered. And 2015 was barely a week old when the offices of Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish deli in Paris were attacked, resulting in more bloodshed, intense media coverage and extensive commentary on a host of complex topics, including free speech, religious intolerance, and challenges facing displaced immigrants.

The Impact on Children

When such shocking events rivet global attention, our children inevitably experience some level of exposure. Even as parents struggle to comprehend these atrocities, they must be “on call” to help their children process strong emotional responses or answer their questions. How parents choose to address or ignore widely publicized acts of terrorism will depend on a variety of factors:

  • the ages and developmental levels of their children
  • their family’s ethnic/cultural/religious background
  • a parent’s professional context (service in the military/frequent travel abroad)
  • the demographic characteristics of the community where a family lives

First, frame the events accurately

Thankfully, most parents will never deal with terrorism beyond confronting disturbing headlines. By definition terrorism involves the random acts of a very few highly aberrant individuals who inflict great harm on a statistically small number of victims while negatively impacting the psyches of millions. Keeping this in mind will help adults moderate their own reaction and interpret the news in a way that will reassure kids. Parents must counter the insidious effect on our collective consciousness when terrorism’s impact is amplified by the echo chamber of the 24/7 news cycle. (Did we need another reason to limit our kids’ exposure to media?) Despite the atrocities dominating the news, parents can find balance in statistics showing that the world of the 21st century is safer than at any prior time in history. (See Harvard cognitive neuroscientist Steven Pinker’s book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined [Viking, 2014])

Addressing the issue confidently

Parents are often at a loss about how to talk about these violent events with their children. The National Association of School Psychologists recommend the following six tips when talking to kids about terrorism:

  1. Model calm and control, while normalizing feeling upset and fearful as appropriate in the circumstances.
  2. Reassure that trustworthy adults (parents, teachers, other authorities) are working to ensure immediate safety.
  3. Tell the truth and stick to the facts. Be guided by kids’ questions and observed emotions, avoiding speculation about who was responsible or dwelling on the scale and scope of the tragedy.
  4. Keep explanations at a developmentally appropriate level.
  5. Listen carefully to kids, and encourage (but don’t force) them to verbalize their thoughts and feelings.
  6. Maintain a “normal” routine, at home and at school.

A real-life example

A recent NPR piece featured the reactions of one Parisian family that was forced to address the potential for more violence when their 9 year-old daughter’s Jewish elementary school was suddenly placed under heavy police guard. This matter-of-fact, measured response to a very up-close-and-personal tragedy compares favorably the recommendations above. The father was quoted as saying,

We chose to tell our daughter everything that did happen as it was happening and she seemed to be handling it extremely well…She asked questions about the bad people. ‘What is happening? Where?’ I told her. The supermarket that was attacked, we actually frequent it…so she knew exactly where the place was.

He went on to explain how he was continuing to maintain as much as possible of his family’s routine, despite the undeniably upsetting situation, and offered praise for the protection provided by the authorities. His comments suggested that despite the potential to be traumatized, his daughter seemed to be taking events in stride.

Finding good in the darkness

The violent loss of innocent life that lies at the heart of terrorism is always sad and abhorrent. But as deeply disturbing as these events are – to children and adults alike – they provide a chance to reinforce family beliefs and values. Teachable moments emerge when parents start by taking the time to understand their child’s “take” on what they’ve seen or heard, and then respond with sensitivity to their child’s developmental level.

  • When 8 year-old Jessie wants to know why someone could be killed simply for drawing a cartoon, her mother might start by asking, “I wonder why you think this happened and what bothers you most about what you’ve heard. It certainly is a very hard thing to understand, but it’s important to be able to talk about it.” Elementary school kids, not to mention most adults, aren’t prepared to interpret the Quran or intelligently discuss blasphemy laws. But Jessie’s mom could remind her that no matter how angry she might feel when teased, it’s never okay to retaliate by hitting and hurting.
  • Similarly, 8th grader Luis might announce, “Anybody who believes that a picture could make it okay to kill people is crazy. That religion is stupid.” First, Luis’ dad should agree that killing in the name of religion is never defensible. But he could continue by asking Luis what else he thinks Muslims believe as a prelude to helping Luis to conduct some quick internet research on the basic tenets of Islam. And his dad could remind Luis that while one Jewish friend keeps a Kosher kitchen, another eats pork, i.e., individuals who identify with the same religion can behave and believe very differently.
  • When high school senior Tracy complains that her school’s newspaper advisor has nixed a plan to print a caricature of the star player for the rival basketball team, and Tracy concludes that students’ rights to free speech are violated, the conversation at the dinner table might end up exploring the role of satire in a democratic society and lines between free speech and hate speech.

From fighting fear to forging skills

The evolving Charlie Hebdo narrative highlights that ours is a world increasingly both borderless and dangerously divided. Global citizenship is demanding. Our kids will confront profound religious, political, cultural and economic differences in their communities and workplaces. They must learn to successfully communicate and coexist with “the other.” Parents should urge the schools their children attend to:

  1. prioritize multi-cultural competency
  2. offer courses in comparative religions and ethics
  3. foster inclusivity and celebrate diversity
  4. provide authentic opportunities for student leadership
  5. promote critical thinking and perspective-taking skills.

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The Social Cost of Belonging: Hazing Prevention Begins at Home

Posted By Julie Stevens, Tuesday, January 13, 2015
Updated: Tuesday, December 16, 2014

 

Start understanding the invisible norms, social costs, prevalence - and what you can do about it.  

I have found myself reflecting on the notion of rites of passage while reading recent accounts of the alleged sexual abuse of younger players by varsity football team members in Sayerville, N.J. Examples of “rites of passage” can be found in most cultures and inter-generationally. Associated with initiation into adulthood, these rituals involve a young person enduring severe physical/psychological hardship and/or risking death or serious injury to perform a task deemed essential to proving skills valued by one’s tribe. (Think Masai youth venturing alone into the savannah to kill a lion with a spear…) Even if the initiate avoided the physical death that might be the consequence of such a ritual, he or she underwent a symbolic, psychological death of childhood, viewed as necessary by the elders for successful transition into full-fledged adulthood.

 

North American “Rites of Passage”

Reading the long list of recent sports-related hazing incidents prompts me to wonder if some high school locker rooms are the current equivalent of where childhood goes to die. Plenty of examples of brutal behavior toward teammates can be found in collegiate and professional sports, as well. This triggers a further thought: If an initiation rite implies what a society’s elders believe about “tribal” adulthood, the message being heard by some youthful perpetrators is truly terrifying.

 

The Social Cost of Camaraderie

Perhaps our sense of outrage has been numbed by the prevalence of sensational news stories about hazing so egregious that it results in death, trauma, cancelling of entire sports seasons, victims having to move to new schools in new towns, and criminal charges. And despite the fact that 44 states currently have anti-hazing laws on the books, the headlines and scientific surveys alike reveal that in middle and high school settings, hazing is increasingly violent and involves adolescents sexually abusing their peers. Those who study this trend theorize that social media has played a role in providing young people with examples of far more brutal hazing tactics than those their parents might have participated in. (A study cited later in this piece revealed that in more than half the hazing incidents mentioned by respondents, a member of the offending group posted pictures on a public web space.) The reported facts of the Sayerville case and others like it demand that adults – parents, teachers, and coaches – must not assume that any tradition in which younger players are subjugated by older players is essentially harmless, even when the aim is to build team spirit and camaraderie.

 

Hazing vs. Bullying

Much attention has rightly been focused on bullying. While the pendulum of social sentiment has appropriately swung away from dismissing bullying as a “normal” part of childhood and early adolescence, or from diminishing the potential harmful effects of being bullied, key differences between bullying and hazing may have clouded our judgment when it comes to adopting zero tolerance for hazing. According to information posted on the website www.HazingPrevention.org, while many of the same intimidation tactics are involved, bullying behavior seeks to exclude the victim; hazing is seen as a means ultimately to include the victims, after they have endured the intimidation, proven their loyalty, and thus “earned” their way onto the team. Bullying is about exclusion; hazing is about inclusion. This distinction apparently confuses both kids and adults, perhaps granting those who haze a “pass” no longer conferred on bullies. Further, no kids want to be bullied, but they may keenly desire the sense of belonging to a team that they see as the result of unpleasant experiences associated with hazing. New team members participate more or less willingly. And many young people who haze their peers see their actions as conferring that status of belonging and as a part of the tradition of their team, not to mention as an expected demonstration of their varsity status. Again, adults need to recognize hazing as not only potentially illegal, but morally untenable. Parents, teachers and coaches are obligated to equip young people to resist, as well as provide support, when they report being party to hazing.

 

The Hidden “Norm”

In a large national study involving over 10,000 college students (Allan & Madden, 2008), hazing was defined as “any activity expected of someone joining or participating in a group that humiliates, degrades, abuses, or endangers them regardless of a person’s willingness to participate.” Almost half of the students reported coming to college having already experienced hazing. However, given that nine out of ten students who reported experiencing behavior consistent with the above definition nevertheless did not consider themselves to have been hazed, the prevalence of hazing in high school is probably underreported. Additionally, in 95% of the cases where students did identify their experience as hazing, they did not report to campus officials.

 


 

  • Parents must acknowledge that this behavior is occurring on a widespread basis.
  • Adults in middle and high schools who are responsible for team sports must be more vigilant.
  • School administrators must foster a positive school climate that extends to all sports activities.

 

Prevention Starts at Home

Parents can help their kids grasp the realities of hazing by suggesting they ask themselves the following questions, drawn from the work of HazingPrevention.org:

  1. Would I feel comfortable participating in this activity if my parents were watching?
  2. Would we get in trouble if a school administrator walked by and saw us?
  3. Am I being asked to keep these activities a secret?
  4. Am I doing anything illegal?
  5. Is this causing emotional or physical distress or stress to myself or to others?
  6. Does participation in this activity violate my values?

 

Leading a Cultural Shift

Again, the cultural response to bullying has begun to shift away from entrenched but misguided notions – adults should “let the kids sort it out” or enduring peer intimidation will help a young person “develop grit” – to an understanding of the long-term, insidious harm caused when bullying is tolerated. Experts on hazing note that despite more high profile cases or anti-hazing laws, only a similar cultural shift will result in change. And they point out that adult leadership is critical.

  1. Clarify Expectations: Parents and educators must take a strong stand that any activity that involves subjugating a new teammate is counterproductive to positive bonding, not to mention morally wrong. Teenagers naturally want to be more creative than the class preceding them; unfortunately this puts them on a dangerously slippery slope when it comes to upping the ante with regard to hazing.
  2. Encourage Assertiveness: As is the case with bullying, adults should focus energy on encouraging bystanders to speak up when they are uncomfortable with any form of peer intimidation.
  3. Enforce Family Values: Parents must clearly communicate to their kids that any path to team membership involving ritual humiliation is not worth the price of “belonging”, i.e., “I hope you get to play on the team for many reasons, but nothing would justify your being intimidated by older teammates/ intimidating younger teammates.” Sports participation should not require abandoning essential values. (Parents of varsity football players not involved in the alleged sexual abuse in Sayerville have signaled they may sue the school district for cancelling the season because they fear their sons’ prospects for playing Division I football are being jeopardized. Consider the message that this conveys about what they truly value.)
  4. Develop Safe Reporting Mechanisms: Parents and administrators must unite in assuring young people that their reports of hazing will be handled responsibly. If the priority is to establish an emotionally and physically safe environment for young athletes (as it should be!) then adults must guarantee a safe place for victims, or others reporting, to come forward.
  5. Designing Intentional Hazing Substitutions: Teachers and coaches can help young people examine school traditions around initiation, and facilitate establishing safe, effective options for fostering team unity and loyalty. All activities should communicate respect and support for new team members.

 

Establishing improved traditions for initiating new players to the team can provide a genuine opportunity for returning players to consider what they value most about team sports, and then design rituals that foster a sense of belonging by reflecting those positive values. In the process, team captains and varsity members get to practice leadership skills and make ongoing activities their own, rather than perpetuating a questionable practice because “that’s what we did last year.” 

 

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Internalizing Santa: Benign cultural tradition or suspect parenting practice?

Posted By Julie Stevens, Wednesday, November 19, 2014
Updated: Tuesday, November 18, 2014

 

 

 

You better watch out
You better not cry
Better not pout
I'm telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town

He's making a list
And checking it twice;
He's gonna find out
Who's naughty and nice
Santa Claus is coming to town

He sees you when you're sleeping
He knows when you're awake
   He knows if you've been bad or good  
So be good for goodness sake!

At least three generations of parents have used the notion of an omniscient Santa Claus to motivate their children as the holidays approach. We all know the lyrics to the instantly popular 1936 “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” which translates into general agreement that pouting, shouting, crying and other forms of broad-based naughtiness will cause Santa to expunge names from his twice-checked list. Like an all-knowing deity or red-suited superego, Santa sees everything and appropriately rewards the well-behaved child. Not such a bad premise, right?

 

Certainly the anticipation of Santa’s visit and forthcoming toys helps young kids focus on good behavior. Parents may notice that the “Santa effect” is powerful, albeit short-term. But is this approach to shaping behavior a benign cultural tradition, or a parenting practice to be analyzed?

 

Jolly old St. Nick notwithstanding, here’s the rub: invoking Santa boils down to encouraging kids to behave well because they are being monitored by an external observer who will reward them when they comply. Fundamentally, this is akin to parents dispensing gold stars for following the rules or paying for good grades. Rewards can often be effective in the short term, but as a long-term strategy they can backfire. Furthermore, when the parent – or the teacher, or Santa Claus – assumes the role of controlling authority, the sole arbiter of good vs. bad, then all that follows hinges on extrinsic rather than intrinsic motivation. Ultimately, what parents want to foster in their children – a strong work ethic, a commitment to behave responsibly even when no one is watching, a love of learning for learning’s sake – depends on their children being intrinsically motivated.

 

When parents rely on rewards to promote good behavior, kids do not feel supported. Instead, they feel judged and manipulated. Approval from mom or dad or Santa is conditional. Kids end up behaving or performing to impress or get the “goodie,” which impedes their development of self-determination. If good behavior is all about getting the “goods,” kids will become superficially compliant, adept at “gaming” the system, potentially dishonest. Reward systems foster competition and threaten co-operation and collaboration between siblings and/or classmates. Kids end up feeling inadequate when they fail to achieve an external reward.

 

How can parents steer clear of relying on rewards and instead support kids behaving well because they are intrinsically motivated to do so? Here are some ideas, based around improving the “get-out-of the-door” morning routine for a balky kindergartener, but easily adaptable to any number of behavioral challenges:

  1. Encourage self-monitoring and help your kids set goals. Instead of letting Santa (or mom or dad) devise the checklist and wield the pen, help your child develop guidelines for and monitor her own behavior. Be sure she knows what constitutes success by posing questions that she can answer: “If you are doing a good job of getting ready for school, what does it look like?” (“I’m putting on my clothes, not playing with my toys.” “I’m eating my breakfast, not watching TV.”) Even a kindergartner could draw a picture representing the desired behavior and give herself a check mark if she is meeting her own expectation. Ask your child to consider what she thinks she’s capable of: “Can you think of other things you could do that would make it easier to get ready in the morning?”
  2. Connect effort to achievement (not rewards), and focus your child on her own pleasure in achieving:  When you tried hard to get dressed quickly, you succeeded. You look like you’re proud of being able to get dressed without my help. Because you are all ready for school, we don’t have to rush to be on time. How does it feel to be able to make it easier for both of us to have more fun/less arguing in the morning?"
  3. Avoid labeling with “person” praise; use “I” statements to praise the process: Instead of “Good girl…you got dressed so fast” try “I appreciate how you thought about setting your clothes out last night; that made it much easier to get dressed quickly even though you still felt sleepy this morning.” Or “I think it felt good to both of us to start the day this way.” In general, telling kids they are the “best player on the team” or the “smartest math student” can set them up to view their worth as dependent on always succeeding and cause them to be less able to persist after setbacks.

 

In the long run, what motivates a child to do the right thing – even when no one is watching – will need to be his own conscience. Parent and teachers should foster intrinsic motivation whenever possible. We want to help kids know the joy of being “good for goodness’ sake!”

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The Subtle & Pervasive Reach of Racism

Posted By Julie Stevens, Wednesday, October 22, 2014
Updated: Wednesday, October 22, 2014


 

4 Parenting Tips to Confront our Collective History 

In response to the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri - the latest in a series of cases prompting a national discussion of how race factors into lived experience - NPR ran a piece entitled "'The Talk:' How Parents Of All Backgrounds Tell Kids About The Police." Research - as well as common sense - confirms that with regard to talking about racism and its consequences, black parents are more likely than white parents to openly discuss with their children the potential effect of skin color on a variety of everyday interactions, including those with the authorities. The stakes are different for parents of black children and adolescents. But all parents would do well to reflect on how, and if, they talk with their children about race.

The final sound bite in the NPR story came from blogger Elizabeth Broadbent, whose provocative post, "A Mother's White Privilege" examined the differences in the nature and degree of parental anxiety she faced as a white mother based on the fact that her sons were "inoculated by a lack of melanin and all its social trapping against the problems faced by black America."


How can parents who aspire to raise children who will confront and reject racism best respond to this latest moment in our collective history?

 

First, if we are parents with the kind of "white privilege" that Broadbent describes, we might begin by examining the complicated feelings engendered by the fact of that privilege:

  • Despair over the pervasiveness and intractability of these fundamental injustices
  • Guilt that we (and our children) are automatically delivered from many of the challenges faced by others, or that we may be complicit in perpetuating unfair advantages afforded by systemic racism
  • Discomfort that acknowledging that the reality of bias and racism debunks the cherished American dream: hard work and determination leads to equal opportunity for all
  • Anger that we are called upon to fashion a response to unfairness that is deeply entrenched in history, not directly of our making, and seemingly beyond our control

 

Regardless of our race and our experiences, parents have a special responsibility to move beyond emotion to understanding how racial stereotypes are formed and how to help our children resist perpetuating them.

 

Most of us would agree that popular media bombards parents and children alike with countless messages - both blatant and subtle - about the significance of race. The degree to which this assault affects us is alarming. A 2009 study by Tufts University of several well-known television shows concluded that nonverbal racial bias is typical of scripted TV offerings, with white characters routinely depicted as receiving better treatment than black characters.

Furthermore, viewers were both influenced by this bias and unable to consciously detect its pervasiveness. Beverly Tatum, a race-relations scholar, likens these inescapable cultural messages to "smog in the air." She reminds us that we (and our children) "don't breathe smog because we think it's good for us. We breathe it because it's the only air that's available." 

 

Addressing Racism Tip #1: Good Filtration

With regard to racist stereotypes floating unseen in the air we all must breathe, we can do our best to provide our kids with the equivalent of good filtration, first by setting limits on what media they consume, and then by helping them to challenge racist stereotypes:

  • “Why do you think most of the gang members/drug addicts/single mothers on TV dramas are portrayed by people of color?"
  • I wonder how the actual statistics about crimes committed by whites and non-whites compare to what we see on TV or in the movies?”

 

Addressing Racism Tip #2: Direct the Dialog

And we can initiate conversations with our kids about race and respond to their questions/comments regarding race – always attempting to do so in a manner that is developmentally appropriate, respectful, and apt to encourage continued dialogue. This might feel awkward. Many white parents mistakenly believe that not directly addressing race helps in raising “colorblind” kids. But just like us, children as young as 21/2 to 3 years notice and begin to make attributions regarding differences in skin color, hair texture, and facial features. 

 

What happens if we remain silent?

If in response to these obvious aspects of human diversity parents remain silent, show discomfort or simply don’t respond when kids raise the issue, then their children may sense some taboo around the topic of racial difference. Or kids may be left to reach their own conclusions, some of which might astound parents who willingly embrace and celebrate diversity, but who avoid discussing race. Consider a study conducted in 2006 (prior to the election of President Obama) by Dr. Rebecca Bigler and her colleagues at UT-Austin.  Children between the ages of 5 and 10 were asked why all 43 presidents to that date were white. She offered possible explanations and, incredibly, 26% of the children endorsed the statement that it was illegal for blacks to be president.

 

Researcher and Yale Assistant Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Science Kristina R. Olson notes, “White children whose parents insist (they) do not see race walk into research labs across the world and, when presented with a line-up of possible friends, are quick to select the White ones rather than the Black, Asian, Hispanic, or Indigenous ones.” While preference for what, or who, is familiar does not necessarily equate with bigotry, children gain when unconscious biases are pointed out and explored.

 

Addressing Racism Tip #3: Build Friendships

Friendship that is relaxed and genuine is fundamental in counteracting every form of “ism”, not to mention overcoming biases. Parents can provide kids with the opportunity for direct contact with people from different groups, which will help them be less influenced by stereotypes.  If your child’s school is not racially diverse, seek out extracurricular activities that will provide experiences with kids of different races and backgrounds. And parents can model interest in understanding those who are racially and culturally different – through the friendships they pursue, the activities they engage in, and the media they consume.

  

Addressing Racism Tip #4: Persevere Even When Challenged

Understand that discussions about racism might be prompted unexpectedly. Follow the links below to see how two dads grappled with racist language and stereotypes they stumbled into when sharing literary classics as part of their children’s bedtime routine. These conversations may challenge and unsettle us, but at a minimum we will learn what our kids are thinking, and let them know we stand ready to help them sort through all varieties of dilemmas.

 

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