Encouraging Acceptance of Others

Talking to your teens about the significance of practicing acceptance of people across all racial, ethnic, and class groups can help ensure they’ll grow up to become an adult who will demonstrate fairness, respect, and know how to embrace differences in others. In our latest Q&A, the Center for Parent and Teen Communication spoke to Riana Elyse Anderson, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Health Behavior & Health Education, School of Public Health, at the University of Michigan, about the importance of talking to your teen about race and learning how to bridge divides. Dr. Anderson is currently on scholarly leave and a fellow at the Stanford Center for Advanced Study in Behavioral Sciences. 

Riana Elyse Anderson, Ph.D.

CPTC: What can parents point out to their teens that may help stem the increased divisiveness and intensified bias and racism they may experience or see in this country?

Riana Elyse Anderson: Your teen is a smart cookie. They know more than you probably give them credit for. The first question I would ask is, ‘What are you seeing on your phone or TV?’  That way, you can get a sense of where they are, what they know, and what they may be concerned about. And as you’re constructing your comments on what you’re going to say, in response to them, be mindful of history and truth. It’s one thing to have an opinion, and I think many parents provide their children with opinions quite a bit. But divisiveness and what’s happening in our society right now is coming from opinions and people who think that they have facts, when there are a lot of things that aren’t quite supported by truth or data. So it’s really important for you to do some research on your own before coming into these conversations.

...it's really critical for us to be mindful of our behaviors that are both explicit and implicit and do things that we would want our children to model themselves.

CPTC: Speaking of different backgrounds, why is it important for teens to be exposed to diverse points of view and people from different backgrounds?

REA: It’s important because if we only get information from certain sources, for example, the television, we know that the media has a bias. There are studies supporting that people of color on TV are either seen in a light that’s not positive, or in a reduced role, and never in the forefront, or if they are, sometimes it might be a dangerous role. So it’s really important to have true human interaction with folks as much as possible. Or, if not, to glean different types of media exposure, so not just from the TV, but there can be books or other ways of bringing in a window of opportunity to look through and see what other people are doing in a real way. During the teenage years, kids are starting to show behaviors that will demonstrate how they might live the rest of their lives. So, if you want your child to be the person who’s going to end racism or divisiveness, we have to know that in their teenage years, they’re practicing. Therefore, if they’re able to communicate with other kids their age or people in their community about some of the things they don’t understand or want to know more about, that can be a stepping stone to when they’re an adult. That’s why it’s important to demonstrate some of the ways other folks are living and thinking so that when your teenager sees them through that window, that’s going to stay with them long term. 

CPTC: In being accepting of others, a person should also have some humility. So let’s talk about humility. Why is it essential to foster this character strength, and why should teens practice humility?

REA: Your teen is growing up in a society and culture where you are supposed to brag about every single thing you do or showcase and highlight the things that are great about you. But we know that people are actually not doing well from displaying this type of bragging news, this type of flashy, I-have-everything-together behavior. We know it’s really tough for some as they are dealing with loneliness and depression at rates that are quite high. Humility allows young people to process what it takes to get to a certain place in their life –  what it takes to achieve goals. It allows them to ask questions of other people like, ‘I’m having a tough time getting over this hump, is there something that you can suggest?’ This builds community and allows problem-solving for your child as they navigate some of the more challenging times of their lives. Humility is something that brings people together, and that can combat some of the challenges that we’re facing in our society today.

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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