Are you raising a teenage racist? by Nicole O’Dell
I know that’s a harsh question. But it’s a fair one.
In many ways, our society has made huge leaps and bounds when it comes to race relations. But there are still big struggles among teenagers–either those from small, segregated areas who haven’t had enough exposure to different types of people, or those from diverse areas where the varios racial groups are at odds.
So, how can we raise teenagers who are blissfully unaware of race and racial tension?
Before we dive into this issue, take a look at this video:
What’s the deal? What do you think about that test? It’s wasn’t a perfect scientific test, granted, but I still think the results were profound. Our kids learn initial assumptions about people from us–their parents. It’s a fact. But, sometimes, what looks like prejudice is really just a lack of exposure. Could we combat the fallout from that lack of exposure by being more intentional about keeping our lives rich with diversity, exposure, and opportunity?
Maybe you don’t have a racist bone in your body, and maybe you’re not raising a teenage racist at all, but let me ask you a few questions:
- Of the last 25 phone calls or texts you made to friends, how many of them were to someone of a different race?
- When you go to the grocery store or to church on Sunday, how do the demographics break down?
- When you go down your list of friends to invite to an event, how many of them are of a different race?
- When was the last time someone of a different race dined in your home?
The answers to those questions don’t necessarily mean you’re harboring some unknown racism. They just might be clues that perhaps you’re sending a message to your tweens and teens that you never intended. Here are ten ways you can raise your teens to not notice race:
1. Read and discuss diverse books with your kids.
2. Watch television and movies that send healthy messages about diversity.
3. Attend a church with a diverse congregation.
4. Be intentional about building friendships with people of other backgrounds.
5. Watch what you say and the attitudes you portray.
6. Avoid laughing at jokes that insult another race or people group.
7. Provide opportunities for your kids to hang out with others who are racially or culturally different.
8. Be open, listen, and answer questions your kids might have about racial and cultural differences.
9. Talk openly about prejudice and racial injustices, and about how to stand up against them.
10. Pray for wisdom as you raise teens to be blind to race and equally loving of all people.
The Hot Buttons column gives you a fictional scenario you can use to put your teen in the heat of moment and help him/her figure out what to do when that real life situation happens. You should take this as an opportunity to see where your teenager may need some help or might face a struggle one day. It’s a launchpad for discussions on the issue of race and diversity.
Now, tell your teen this story as though it’s really happening to him/her:
Your friends are always slamming kids of other races and use really bad names to describe them. They do this privately, but it’s pretty clear that they shun anyone who doesn’t look just like they do. One of these days, they’re going to take it too far and really hurt someone’s feelings. And what if people think you agree with them? What do you do?
Present the following choices to your teenager:
1. They don’t mean any harm, and they really are kind of funny. You just laugh along with them once in a while.
2. You tell your friends that they have to stop talking like that around you.
3. You can’t be friends with those kids any longer. You can’t condone that kind of hate. Even if they don’t say it around you, it’s still who they are
4. As long as they only say that stuff in private, it’s not your concern. You let your friends know that you’re worried about people overhearing them, and ask them to be careful
Now let your teen make a choice between the responses without feeling judged or directed. You want the response to be as honest as possible. Remember, you’re most likely battling peer pressure and a potentially weakened self-image.
Here are some discussion points you can use to lead the conversation after the choice is made:
- Why did you make the choice you did?
- What kinds of people do you want to have as friends?
- How does your choice in friends reflect on you personally?
- Do you see this kind of behavior in your school?
- Read chapter 4 to learn about various perceived weaknesses that bullies target.
- How does Jesus feel about different kinds of people.
- Do you want to be a strong, confident person, or do you want to be a follower and a people-pleaser even if it means hurting others?
- Do you now have a different view on this scenario than you did at the start? Why or why not?
- Would you like to change your answer or stick with it?
- Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. (Eph. 4:29)