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:

Strive to Get Out of Your Own “Comfort Zone”

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.

Don’t Avoid Controversial Topics

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 “I” statements to personalize thoughts and feelings. Let’s say, for example,that you get pulled into a discussion with someonewho adamantly opposes homosexuals serving in themilitary: “I find it upsetting when I hear inflammatory statements about gay people joining the military.I have great respect for anyone who puts hisor her life on the line for our country.” Using “I”statements prevents the conversation from becomingaccusatory.
  •  Ask the right questions. This will help you get to the heart of others’ principles and beliefs.You might ask, “What about your life experience has influenced your beliefs?”
  • Remain silent long enough to listen. The other person will see that you do care about what they have to say. You might not be able to reach agreement, but you can attain mutual respect.
    For more information, visit youthleadonline.org.

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