Despite the best efforts of many parents and teachers, children still learn prejudice and
practice discrimination. How does this happen?
When people act on the basis of their
prejudices or stereotypes, they are discriminating. Discrimination may mean putting other
people down, not allowing them to participate in activities, restricting their access to
work or to live in certain neighborhoods, or denying them something they are entitled to
by right and law.
Prejudice is learned through living in and observing a society where prejudices
exist. Children's opinions are influenced by what the people around them think,
do and say. Even if you, as a parent, are a model of tolerance, your children are still
exposed to other people who may not respect differences.
A child may observe that some people won't associate with members of certain groups or
that members of some groups rarely, if ever, occupy influential positions in the school or
community. A child may overhear some people or groups put down by jokes.
If no one addresses these instances of exclusion, a child may grow up thinking that this
is the way it is supposed to be, and that people who have been discriminated against
deserve this treatment because they are inferior in some way. This is why it is
so important to address issues of prejudice and discrimination when and wherever they
occur, to point out inequities, and to let children know such ideas and actions are
unacceptable in a democratic society.
Next: Media Influence & Self-Image