Research suggests that most parents don’t feel equipped to teaching children about different races, ethnicities, or cultures. While parents are supposed to instill these values, they have often don’t have the knowledge or experience they need. Historically, parents were the primary source of information for their children. They taught their children reading, writing, and arithmetic. They taught their children socialization skills and vocational skills. However, after the common school movement, schools and communities took greater responsibilities towards educating children and preparing them for the workforce.
Today, parents are still the primary source of information for how their children are socialized into the world. The process of socialization takes place within a context. This is the community that a parent lives in with their child. Parents need to consciously be aware of what their child is or is not exposed to in terms of race, ethnicity, culture, gender and/or sexuality. Parents are the gatekeepers to their children’s understanding about diversity. However, many parents note that they need more information on how to expose their children to diversity. They want to be culturally sensitive. They want to know what to say and how to say it.
There is so much to consider that often times parents shut down. They just don’t engage in these types of conversations with their children and they tell their children not to say “that” or ask about “that.” Unfortunately, when a child’s curiosity is not addressed, their initial curiosity fades and takes a turn towards forming misinformed judgments. The lack of knowledge about a culture can also lead to a host of other interpersonal problems such as low tolerance for others as well as a lack of empathy and respect for others. In addition, research has shown that when people are around different racial or ethnic groups (other than their own), their stress levels increase.
Parents need to socialize their children to engage with the diversity that is around them.By becoming more knowledgeable and comfortable with the differences that exist, parents can encourage their children to ask questions and truly understand the diversity that is around them. Parents can gain knowledge about these topics through resources that are geared towards learning about these communities (e.g.,Hybrid Parenting). With this understanding, they can consciously raise children to have a critical perspective of the diverse world that we live in.
By Amita Roy Shah, Ed.D.