Racism 101: Teaching Tolerance

Engage your preteen and teen in these discussions. Is the school cafeteria divided along racial lines? Has an interracial romance sparked controversy? Ask your son about the climate of tolerance in his middle school. Listen to your daughter as she comments on what she has observed, respect for others or old-fashioned racism.

Young adolescents are ripe for such discussions. Getting along with peers is a major task for those between the ages of 10 and 15. This is the exact time when children understand racism and compassion, prejudice and respect. Now is when they see and feel discrimination. During these "middle years" activism emerges and conscience kicks in. This is when your children are ready to recognize injustice and hypocrisy, and to put your values to work.

Partner with your children and lobby at their school for more discussions on fighting racism. Many schools have a club called "Students Against Racial Intolerance." Does your middle or high school have one? If not, get one going.

Finally, reach out in your community across racial, ethnic and other barriers. What does that mean exactly? Bring people of other colors, sexual orientations, and ethnic backgrounds into your social world. Invite them to dinner or sit with them next time you are at a school function. Model behavior that treats all people as equals regardless of race, gender, religion or sexual orientation.

If you don't want your children to grow up in a world still polluted with racist crimes, homophobic lynchings and rounds of anti-Semitic horrors, it's up to you to live and teach tolerance in your home. Our world is what we make it.

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