Promoting Tolerance
& Accepting Diversity

What can parents do in
a post 9/11 world?

 

Background

One of the most important lessons parents can teach their children is tolerance for others-acceptance of differences in appearance, culture, language, or ability. This can be particularly difficult at those developmental stages when children seem more vulnerable to teasing and peer pressure. In the presence of a desirable social group, children can easily become caught up in behaviors that lead to stigmatizing others because of some characteristic. This stigmatizing usually results from misunderstandings of individual differences or from prejudices reflected in their neighborhoods or communities. These perceptions often reflect the behaviors and attitudes of significant adults in these children's lives.

Compounding the day-to-day issues of tolerance in our communities is the response to tragic national and local events such as schoolyard shootings and the terrorist attacks of September, 2001. Regardless of parents' efforts to shield children from the most horrific images, all of our children have been touched to some degree by these events and by the reactions of their parents, teachers and neighbors. While anger can be a normal response when such disasters occur, parents must ensure that they do not compound a great tragedy by reacting against innocent individuals with vengeance and intolerance. There is a tremendous risk of unfairly stigmatizing people-in this country and around the world- who may look like our perceived "enemies" because of their apparent race, language, religion, the way they dress, or some other attribute.

Children, in particular, may have difficulty channeling their feelings appropriately, and they can easily pick up negative or demeaning cues given by adults around them. Given the diversity of America's schools, some students may become targets of hostility and blame. Bullying and harassment are never acceptable, but they can be especially damaging at a time when increased vigilance against terrorism remains in the news. Such behaviors only further increase the risk of violence in schools and communities.

Parents can help their children understand the importance of treating all people with dignity and not judging groups of people based on the actions of a few. Most importantly, parents must model tolerance and compassion in their own words and behavior. They should also encourage children to explore their feelings about prejudice and hate. Doing so is not only critical to preventing further harm, it also provides an opportunity for our young people to learn and incorporate our commitment to individual freedom and upholding the respect and dignity of all people into their own values.

 

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Adapted for TeachersAndFamilies by the National Association of School Psychologists from "A National Tragedy: Promoting Tolerance and Peace in Children: Tips for Parents and Schools." For further information on promoting tolerance among children and youth, contact NASP at (301) 657-0270 or visit its website at www.nasponline.org
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