“We make diversity about differences,” says Ayana Allen, PhD, assistant professor of urban education at Drexel University in Philadelphia. “We should normalize and celebrate differences. We should be focusing on our shared humanity.”
How and why should parents approach the concept of diversity with their children, whether the difference involves race and ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic status, gender or sexual orientation?
Benefits of diversity
The U.S. Census Bureau projects that by 2044 we will become a majority-minority nation, with 50.3 percent of all adults being minorities. We’re already close to majority-minority status among populations under age 18.
Cindy Dell Clark, PhD, associate professor of anthropology at Rutgers University in Camden, NJ, says, “The problems our children will face will be global challenges. It will be an asset in adulthood to grow up in a world whose assumptions may not be the same as yours.” If we want our children to succeed, she continues, they need to be adept at crossing cultural barriers.
“Diversity enriches our lives. It adds layers and nuances that are interesting and engaging,” adds Natasha Fletcher, PhD, acting director of the Center for Urban Research and Education at Rutgers University in Camden, NJ.
An understanding of people’s differences intertwines with empathy, notes Molly Blew, school psychologist at Alfred G. Waters Middle School in Middletown, DE. She says, “Empathy is very important in children’s development and their success in life, and it leads to important outcomes.”
So what can a parent do? Incorporating diversity into a child’s life, Dr. Allen says, has to start at home. “Parents have to live it, breathe it and want it.”
What parents can do
Communicate and model acceptance. Parents should talk to their children about acceptance and diversity. “It’s important for parents to have a sophisticated conversation in ways that are respectful to other groups,” says Dr. Allen.
Parents can demonstrate acceptance in their everyday lives, Blew adds. “They can model care and kindness toward others. It may not seem like it, but kids want to be like their parents,” she says.
Build diverse communities. Parents should be intentional about building diverse communities for their children, says Dr. Allen, including having play dates or networks that befriend families of a different race, ethnicity, religion or background. Parents also should consider the diversity efforts and values of their child’s school.
Seek out diverse experiences. Parents can travel within other communities and enjoy cultural festivals or other social events with their children. As a parent, Dr. Fletcher travels with her two children to neighboring cities as well as events close to home. For example, she and her 16-year-old son attend the Camden Supper Club, a dining experience with people of different backgrounds who often eat together at local restaurants that serve authentic ethnic cuisines.
Explore diverse media. Literature, music and films all provide opportunities for children to learn about differences. Books, in particular, offer an amazing way to bring diversity into a child’s life, says Blew.
As for when a child’s diversity education should begin, Dr. Allen says, “No age is most critical for introducing diversity. Every grade level is critical. The earlier parents do this, the better.”
Dr. Fletcher says her children, who are approaching adulthood, are compassion- ate, kind and tolerant. She adds, “Diversity is a value that I’ve cultivated in my children. It debunks fear. It cultivates the heart.”
Nicole D. Crawford is a freelance writer.