Hate is learned and can be "unlearned"
No child is born a bigot. Hate is learned, and
there is no doubt it can be unlearned. Leading experts on child
development argue that the problem begins as early as preschool,
where children have already learned stereotypes or acquired negative
attitudes toward "others:" The process of countering those
negatives with positives begins at an early age.
Louise Derman-Sparks, an educator and specialist
on child development, points to three major issues that are important
to keep in mind when talking to children about prejudice and discrimination.
- Children are not colorblind. It is
a myth that young children don't notice people's differences,
especially skin color. Children are in fact acutely aware of our
shadings and gradations, and they need matter-of-fact, simple,
and truthful explanations of these differences. At an early age
they may ask for explanations. It is important for parents to
be equipped to respond.
- Talking about differences does not increase
prejudice in children. Being aware of differences is not the
same as avoiding, ridiculing, or fearing specific differences.
Moreover, awareness does not lead to negative attitudes. Children
learn biases from important adults in their lives, from the media,
from books, and from peers. Parents need to talk to their kids-to
give them accurate information and to reinforce when their behaviors
indicate a value of differences as opposed to a prejudice. Surprisingly,
many parents have trouble opening up and broaching the subject.
For these parents it's a good idea to practice the discussion
with an adult before taking it up with children. Above all, parents
should ensure their words of wisdom are in tune with their actions.
Sending a contradictory message only reinforces prejudices and
- It is not enough to talk about similarities
among people. While we want our children to understand the
things that bind us as human beings, it is equally important that
they understand that shared characteristics, language, and customs
are expressed in different ways. When we continuously tell our
children, "See, they do that just like us;' we may be implying
that similarities are the only things that make "those"
Next: Talking to children about diversity: Preschool years