For nearly 20 years, I have spent countless hours working on the front line as a child psychologist with children who have some form of difference: mental-health challenges, developmental/learning challenges, changing families, variances in sexual and gender orientation or race, and so on.
I have heard countless heartbreaking accounts of bullying, prejudice and discrimination, but I must confess even after two decades in the psychology trenches I was still shocked watching the news coverage in Charlottesville.
The events in Charlottesville teach us that we must never be complacent. We must always fight for what is right. We must stand for equality, fairness, respect and kindness. We can never take our values for granted. We must unite in our fight for social justice. We need to live the way we want the world to be. We know we must. But how do we actually do it?
The idea is to not shy away or hide from the discussion, but rather to face it head on.
I find myself thinking as a psychologist again — and particularly as a developmental psychologist. If we are going to truly make a difference in the world, we need to start in our own homes, our own families, with our children. There are key steps for raising children who embrace inclusion and fight racism:
- Start talking with your children about racism, prejudice and discrimination as early as possible
- Model inclusive values for your kids
- Talk with your children about the world's problems
- Encourage advocacy
Overall, the idea is to not shy away or hide from the discussion, but rather to face it head on, empowering your kids to ask questions, share their feelings and figure out what they can do.
Beyond our homes, this kind of teaching needs to happen in childcare, preschools and elementary schools, as well as community programs and organizations (like YCI). We need to talk about it. Children need to read about it. Children need to see it in their cartoons. Children need to play games that promote diversity and inclusive thinking. They need to understand that we see something we feel in our bones to be wrong, we cannot just sit there and let it happen. We need to speak up. We need to do something about it.
We can extend the message to encourage our children to stick up for other children in our schoolyards and playgrounds. Let's teach our children to stick up for a classmate who has been told to "go home" because the come from a different part of the world. Empower our children to stand alongside a child who is bullied because they look different in some way or because they have a different level of ability. We can praise them for sitting beside the child who is made fun of because of their religion, the colour of their skin or for having two moms.
We need to ensure that our children are raised with healthy values and with an inclusive worldview. Our children need to grow up with a mindset that has inclusion as a default setting. We will know that we have truly progressed as a global society if children are surprised to encounter prejudice in any form and know exactly how to squash it.
It is in our children where we will find hope.
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