Fostering Cultural Diversity

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May 3, 2011 by middleearthnj

We live in a multicultural, global community that is growing more and more connected through technology. Helping teens develop an understanding and appreciation of culture’s impact on their lives and the world promotes cognitive development, mature decision-making and positive peer-related behavior.

Our cultural training starts the moment we are born. For instance, a pink or blue hat on a newborn cues everyone who interacts with the baby to treat the child as either a girl or a boy, according to the culture’s norms. As parents, we send dozens of subtle messages to children not only by what we discuss and teach, but even by what we do NOT discuss or teach.

The number one factor in developing any virtue in a child is role modeling. You need to make sure your child is seeing you display the attributes and behaviors that you desire for them to emulate. We cannot embrace diversity by remaining set in our ways, beliefs and thoughts. Be open to new ideas. This role modeling starts when they are born and continues through their teenage years. Therefore, to foster cultural diversity, parents should set an example by listening, accepting and welcoming people and ideas which are different from their own. This breeds tolerance and transforms a child’s world into a warm, welcoming, sharing community. One way of nurturing empathy in children is to clue them in to the sensitivity of others. If your teen is arguing with a sibling or friend help them to think through how they are making the other person feel, not just on how to get what they want. When you watch TV or read a book, ask them how they think the character might feel. Be sure your teen is developing a sense for another person’s point of view.

Many people, teens and adults alike, look only through the lens of their own cultural influences. Unfortunately, this can lead them to believe that their culture is “the only one” or “the right one.” Studying cultural diversity helps teens learn more about themselves as individuals, their family norms and the cultures of their peers. This knowledge supports each student’s psychological and social growth. It also opens the conversations that break down cultural barriers, eliminates prejudice, stops potential hate and peer violence, and reduces bullying. Research shows that the cognitive effort required for breaking through stereotypes enhances complex thinking and development of values, ethics and character.

Ways to Help Foster Cultural Diversity in Teenagers

  • At gatherings with extended family, encourage storytelling and share personal experiences across generations.
  • Invite friends from backgrounds different from your own to experience the joy of your traditions and customs. Ask them to share their traditions and customs with your family.
  • Be mindful of your language; avoid stereotypical remarks and challenge those made by others. Speak out against jokes and slurs that target people or groups. Silence sends a message that you are in agreement. Your teens are watching you in these situations and absorb the subtle messages your action or inaction conveys.
  • Provide accurate information to reject harmful myths and stereotypes. Discuss as a family the impact of prejudicial attitudes and behavior.
  • Visit museums, exhibits or historical sites that either celebrate different cultures or are associated with the struggle for human and civil rights.
  • Research your family tree and trace your family’s involvement in the struggle for civil and human rights or the immigration experience. Identify personal heroes and positive role models.
  • Encourage your children to read books that promote understanding of different cultures as well as those that are written by authors of diverse backgrounds.

Remember that an inclusive community is a rich one. It is rich in warmth and respect for all its members. This is the type of legacy that we want to leave to the next generation.

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