4 Ways to Teach Your Teen to Have Cultural Humility

What do you think of when you hear the term cultural humility? Have you ever had a conversation with your teen about it? Perhaps you’ve never even heard of it. Don’t worry, many haven’t. Cultural humility is “the process of self-reflection and discovery in order to build honest and trustworthy relationships.” Mia Smith-Bynum, Ph.D., Professor of Family Science in the School of Public Health at the University of Maryland, College Park, says the concept is about building up a skill set you need to interact more effectively with people from different backgrounds than your own.

Think of the Golden Rule: Treat people the way you want them to treat you. 

“Treating others well and with civility is what makes our society function. A lot of social rules and expectations are based on interacting with each other in a civil manner. And as the country has diversified over the last 30 years, we’re more likely today to encounter people from backgrounds different than ours, whether at school, in our neighborhoods, or our places of work,” says Dr. Smith-Bynum. “Cultural humility is about  the process of self-reflection and thinking about who you are, your preferences, your style of speech, your ways of moving through the world, and recognizing that others may not do things the same way as you.”

So, for teens, teaching them cultural humility will help them grow up to be more compassionate, open-minded, self-aware, and respectful adults. How can you help your teen have this important trait? Here are four tips:

You want your kids to be comfortable interacting with people with different backgrounds. It’s important to teach them to be humble in learning about others and being curious about others, respectfully.

1. Teach them to be open-minded.

Let’s say your teen has to work closely on a school project with several classmates who have different races, backgrounds, and ethnicities from your teen. Make sure they know that for this project to be a success, your child needs to know how to be open and sensitive to the differences of the other students. “You want your kids to be comfortable interacting with people with different backgrounds. It’s important to teach them to be humble in learning about others and being curious about others, respectfully,” says Dr. Smith-Bynum. This will also be helpful for them when they enter the workplace and have to work and connect effectively with people from all cultures.

2. Be a role model.

Take a look at your own life. Do you interact with people from diverse backgrounds? Do you demonstrate unbiased and impartial behavior? Remember that your tweens and teens take their cues from you. So you can talk to them about cultural humility until you’re blue in the face, but if you are not incorporating it into your life, your child will see the disconnect. “You’re telling them it’s important, but you really don’t value it. Then you’ll raise kids who will also say it’s important but not really value it. So, start with recognizing you may need to make some intentional changes in your personal life,” says Dr. Smith-Bynum. In other words, practice what you preach and have some cultural humility.

3. Expose them to diversity.

Read books or watch movies, shows, and documentaries together with your teen. Look for ones featuring people from various races, ethnicities, social classes, and faiths. By doing so, they can learn about other lifestyles and cultures different from themselves. Take them to cultural festivals so they can experience diverse nationalities and communities. “Educate yourself and your child because sometimes the experiences of different and marginalized communities are not taught in kindergarten through 12th grade, which makes it very easy for things to get missed,” says Dr. Smith-Bynum. This will help your teen learn there are people whose lives are shaped differently from their own, and it’s important to convey respect for that.

4. Tell them to have cultural humility everywhere and always.

Ensure your teen knows that cultural humility is not something they sometimes turn on or demonstrate. Whether in a classroom, around their neighborhood, on a sports team, in the workplace, or on a social outing, they should always be accepting of others. Tell them that racism, prejudice, bigotry, and xenophobia – the fear of strangers or those from different cultures – are always unacceptable. The more kids understand this, the better their communities and the world will be.

About LaShieka Hunter

LaShieka Hunter is a health, parenting, and entertainment writer living on Long Island, NY. Her work has appeared in The New York Times; O, The Oprah Magazine; Essence; Dr. Oz The Good Life; Men’s Health; and Ebony.

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