Teens learn about social, political and cultural issues from a variety of sources, besides school. The media bombards them with conflicting opinions and viewpoints on various topics, their friends share their own beliefs and they often see unsourced information on social media. With all these varying sources and opinions, it’s easy for teens to have misconceptions about different groups of people.
Here are some things you can do if you notice your teen holds prejudiced beliefs about other people and cultures.
Find Out What Influences Your Teen
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Ask your teen where they get their information from and take the time to read these sites so you know what opinions influence your teen. This provides you with a good opportunity to better understand their thinking so you can have a meaningful discussion about their beliefs.
Have Open, Judgement-Free Conversations
It’s a good idea to engage in conversations with your teen about world issues or current events, such as same-sex marriage or the immigration debate. You can start by asking them what they think about the issues and the people involved. Don’t judge or shame your teen if they speak with prejudice; instead, listen to what they’re saying so you can address their prejudice head-on.
Challenge Their Prejudice
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If you hear your teen say something prejudiced, don’t meet it with silence. Silence suggests acceptance, and even a “don’t say that” is not enough because it doesn’t provide an explanation. Try to find the underlying cause of the comment (e.g. ask “what makes you believe that about their culture?”). Then suggest how they would feel if they looked at the matter from another perspective, and offer accurate information that shows why their views may not be true.
Share Reputable Fact-Based Articles
To counter any inaccurate, unbiased or unvetted information your teen consumes, provide them with relevant, fact-based articles from trustworthy sources (such as credible newspapers, scientific studies and books). You can explain what makes these sources more reliable, and encourage your teen to learn more by reading more material from these sources or trying new activities.
Encourage Your Teen to Broaden Their Horizons
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Your teen may show signs of prejudice if they only spend time with people who look and act like them and come from similar backgrounds and beliefs. Encourage your teen to interact with people outside of their usual group. These opportunities could include volunteer work or extracurricular activities such as team sports or school choir. By spending time with more people from different backgrounds, your teen will gain a greater sense of empathy.
Set a Strong Example
In order for your teen to take what you say seriously, you have to show that you believe what you say. Examine your own words and behavior for signs of prejudice, and ensure your actions match the values you’re teaching to your teen—if you suggest they spend an afternoon helping out at a soup kitchen, join them! Teens are more likely to be influenced by what you do over what you say.
If you notice your teen displaying a discriminatory attitude, there are several effective things you can do to encourage empathy, compassion and new viewpoints. Prejudice is harmful, but it can also be eliminated.
Feature Image: Paul Proshin