Friday, March 11, 2011

Teaching Children Tolerance

When I was a teenaged babysitter for a lovely Orthodox Jewish family, I had an interesting experience with my five year old charge. While the mother was saying her goodbyes, she asked her son if he's going to have fun with me learning the Hebrew alphabet. He said, "I don't know". After the mother prodded further, he responded, "because she's Black". Of course, the mother had a shocked - SHOCKED - look on her face. I trusted that he didn't learn this type of differentiation at home. The mother and I both looked puzzled as to where he got the idea that the brown girl wouldn't be fun to learn the Alephbet with. To this day, I never got that answer.
Every child should be directly taught tolerance from by their guardians, or indirectly by their environment. You can't imagine the intolerant, hurtful things I hear adults say around children. Remember this? Now, I do realize that tolerance can be different from acceptance. And that some people are willing to do one and not the other. We aren't at all perfect, but we should try to be mindful not to lump others into groups based on external attributes. It can be confusing and maybe even harmful to children who are probably better off getting to know their daycare pals, schoolmates and world without our biases.
So, how do you plan on teaching your child tolerance in a world that throws around phrases like "that's gay" or "you're retarded" as if they don't hurt? Do you attempt to shield his ears or allow him to hear it and explain it right away?
This parenting stuff is tricky, isn't it?


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