We live in a rapidly globalizing world. Chances are your kids go to school with and will one day work with people from a wide array of races, beliefs and backgrounds. If they can connect across these cultural differences, they’ll be far more likely to lead successful lives. You can’t collaborate and innovate if you can’t get beyond surface relationships. These are tough skills that are typically not taught in school.
Most of us know that cross-cultural acceptance is necessary and desirable. But that sentiment does little to cause real change in behavior. Kids need exposure and practice – exposure to people from other cultures and practice in discussing sensitive issues in a level-headed manner. Youth LEAD provides both. This nonprofit organization based in Sharon, Mass., engages a diverse group of area high school students to inspire them to reflect upon their cultural values and beliefs, connect with others across differences, and act together to address local and global challenges. These young people – teens from diverse religious, ethnic and racial backgrounds – form friendships while learning valuable skills on civil dialogue, leadership, cooperation and more. How can we parents foster these traits in our own kids? It’s about seizing “teachable moments” and creating more of those opportunities for our kids. For example:
When kids see that you socialize only with others just like you, they will question your credibility. You don’t have to go to absurd lengths to create your own “rainbow” of friends – that will seem fake and contrived – but your kids need to see that you’re not “rigid.”
Reach out and introduce yourself to someone new. You might make an effort to befriend the Muslim parent of your child’s classmate or the Jewish parent of his soccer teammate. Let the relationship unfold naturally and accept any invitations, especially those that include the kids.
When a subject that makes you uncomfortable comes up in conversation, especially with someone who holds a different viewpoint, don’t do the subject-change tango. Instead, model the “healthy” way to disagree. Here are a few techniques Youth LEAD uses in its dialogue training classes:
Use these tips to help your kids understand different races, cultures, beliefs and religions: