What to Tell Your Child About
Prejudice and Discrimination

Introduction
Learning Prejudice
Media Influence & Self-Image
Responding to Children
What Can Parents Do About Prejudice?

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Media Influence and Self-Image

Children also observe and are exposed to prejudice by watching television, reading books and magazines, or even studying school textbooks that present stereotyped views of various groups of people. In addition to stereotypes, some books present misinformation; others exclude important information about some groups in any positive way. Television shows and books exert undue influence when they are the only exposure a child has to certain groups. Although some improvements have been made, it is not difficult to find TV shows that depict some well-established stereotypes.

Stereotype:

Oversimplified generalization about a group of people. When people say that all members of a specific nationality, religion, race or gender are "cheap," "lazy," "criminal" or "dumb," they are expressing stereotypes. All groups have both cheap and generous individuals. All groups have individuals who commit crimes. To label an entire group based on the actions of some is to engage in stereotyping. Even when a stereotype is positive, such as when people in one racial group are thought to be superior athletes, the consequences of stereotyping are negative.

Children who have poor self-images are more vulnerable to developing prejudices. They may try to bolster their own worth by finding a group of people whom they can put down. An insecure child might think, "I may not be very good but I am better than those people." For some, putting down others may serve a psychological function, allowing them to feel more important and powerful than those they put down.

Some children may exclude or make fun of others because they believe it is the popular thing to do. Children may begin to use unkind names for different groups if they feel it will help them to be more accepted by their peers. Over time, such actions can result in prejudice and discrimination against specific groups. All children notice differences. This is developmentally appropriate and, by itself, not a problem; but when negative values are attached to those differences, problems occur.

Next: Responding to Children


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2001 Anti-Defamation League