Discussing Diversity: Developing a Better Understanding of “Different”

Imagine you’re walking through the grocery store with your younger child, and down the aisle comes an older man with one arm. Your child—being the typical curious kid—watches the man attentively and in fascination. As you have already probably predicted, your child turns to you and asks (loudly), “Why does that man only have one arm?” Similar to many parents, you probably shush them and avoid discussing the situation by stating, “It’s not nice” or “It’s not polite.”

As children go through adolescence, they are exposed to new things that leave them curious. It’s not uncommon for parents to hear, “Why?” As a parent you are constantly having to answer children’s curious questions. Sometimes those questions can be uncomfortable when a child asks in public, or even in the privacy of your own home. An article by Psychology Today talked about discussing diversity with youth, and how silence isn’t always the best choice.

The Message Silence Sends when Discussing Diversity

When parents respond with avoidance or silence to children’s curious questions about diversity, what message are they sending to children about people who look, behave, and experience the world differently?

Children often ask the difficult or sometimes uncomfortable questions when they are young, at a time when the answers received are extremely impressionable. Discussing diversity with youth at a young age—rather than choosing to be silent—could generate greater tolerance, acceptance, care and love for those who are perceived as “different” in the world. Society is already tainted with so many negative stereotypes about mental health, disabilities, gender, and many other areas of diversity.

Responses of silence when it comes to discussing diversity with youth, are discouraging kids from asking questions. A child is less likely to ask a question after they are shushed or told it’s inappropriate. Kids should ask questions and they should be encouraged to be curious, no matter the topic.

What often happens—due to the general understanding that these topics shouldn’t be discussed—is that children develop false understandings of people with diversity. Ultimately, this is leading to the continuation of negative stereotypes and stigmas that are building hatred and anger towards people who are “different.”

Changing the View on Diversity

By discussing diversity with youth at a young age, we eliminate the barrier prohibiting individuals from understanding diversity. Often, when we lack understanding, fear is developed over what we do not know. It is this fear, over diversity and those we do not understand that is fueling so much of the hate, abrasiveness and violence the world has recently been experiencing. As a parent, it’s time to stop shushing and start explaining, so that our society can develop a better understanding and acceptance over being “different.”

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