Teach Your Kids to Connect with Those Who Are 'Different'
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“These tips work with all sorts of controversial issues, not just in ‘diversity’ situations,” says Penn. “Use them whenever you have any sort of disagreement with anyone, about any subject.”??
Watch the news with your children. When you see a story that centers on a cultural issue, discuss it.
Ask kids what they know about Islam or Passover or the African-American community. Engage them in discussions. Being active observers of the news is a good way to gauge kids’ attitudes and those of their friends and to share your own.
“This is no substitute for face-to-face interaction with people from other cultures, of course, but it is a good starting point,” Penn says. “We tend to live in our own insulated little bubbles, and the news serves as our window on the larger world. Knowing what the issues are opens the door to conversations that can result in deeper understanding and acceptance of other cultures.”
If you witness an episode of cultural or racial insensitivity, take a stand.
Don’t stand quietly by and listen to a disparaging remark aimed at a woman wearing a hijab, for instance. You might gently say to the perpetrator, “Imagine how it would feel if the shoe were on the other foot. Perhaps you don’t know how hurtful your words can be.” This is the right thing to do and it’s especially valuable if kids are present. “If you don’t feel safe confronting a rude or even hostile person, you can certainly offer a kind word to the recipient of the remark,” Penn says. “If it seems relevant, turn the event into a learning experience. ‘I’m sorry that man was so insensitive. I can see that your feelings are hurt and I want you to know that not everyone in our city has that kind of attitude. Can you tell me a little about your faith?’”
Seek out opportunities to take kids on a “faith” field trip.
Attending a worship service of a faith different from your own can be a tremendously educational and enriching experience. Of course, it’s not always advisable to “drop in” at a place of worship if you don’t know anyone. However, if you have a personal relationship with someone from a different tradition, you might ask if you and your family can be his/her guest. That way you can learn about what’s going on and be comfortable walking in the door.
If finances allow, make plans to visit another country on vacation.
This can be an amazing learning experience for you and your kids, and traveling abroad can be surprisingly affordable if you do your research. However, if you determine this kind of adventure is out of your price range, visiting an ethnic section of a nearby city can be a good substitute. Try out restaurants, shops, street festivals, etc. The idea is to immerse kids in culturally diverse environments. There may even be an opportunity to turn this into a school project, perhaps for extra credit.
“You want to get kids comfortable with the reality that there are many different ways to live and that all have their own unique beauty,” says Penn. “As they explore the sights and sounds and flavors of a different culture, they will find that people are alike in so many ways—they all respond to a smile, a friendly greeting, and a kind word.”
Host a foreign exchange student.
This is another good way to expose kids to the customs, traditions, languages, and culture of another country. Having someone in your home 24/7 almost necessitates a certain “depth” to your relationship—after all, this is a person you and your kids will laugh with, learn with, and hopefully hold meaningful conversations with. Lifelong friendships can grow from these experiences.
Encourage kids to join organizations that bring different cultures together to interact and learn from each other.
Youth LEAD is just one of many organizations that bring young people from different cultures together for mutual education and meaningful interaction. As mentioned earlier, Harvard’s Pluralism Project identified interfaith groups in cities across America, and there are many youth leadership programs that foster understanding across differences.
“Look to see what your community has to offer,” advises Penn. “I would urge you to look for an organization that moves beyond educational and social purposes.”
Scan newspapers and community calendars for cultural and multicultural events.
You might be surprised at what’s out there. Many communities, nonprofit organizations, worship centers, and schools host events that are free or open to families at a very low cost. Whether it’s a Japanese cherry blossom festival, a speaking presentation by an African dignitary, an Islamic art exhibit, or an interfaith gathering, you’ll likely find an event that your entire family can enjoy.
For hundreds of great cultural and kid-friendly events in the NYC area, head to our full, searchable calendar of events.
“It’s human nature to get stuck in a comfortable rut,” says Penn. “Change takes effort and sometimes it means confronting our own prejudices and assumptions. Yet taking action to expose kids to a broader worldview is always worth doing, not only for them but for us as well. What many parents find surprising when they take this journey is not how well their kids respond, but how much richer and more interesting their own lives become.”