After seeing the awfulness going on in Indiana and the horrible video from the SAE frat (Google it if you haven’t seen it and want to, I won’t link that ugliness from here), I am sparked to write a bit about the lessons we teach our children. These two issues are product of the older generations refusal to change, and those messages of intolerance being passed down. Don’t get me wrong, this does not absolve either group of guilt. After a certain age, we are responsible for our own actions, and we run out of excuses. That being said, we owe it to our children to provide examples and views of acceptance so they can have an easier time landing on the right side of these issues.
Children by nature are accepting of others, and you can see it when young kids play. They don’t care about gender, race, religion or anything else. My daughter will go up to basically any other kid remotely her age and declare “Hi! Would you like to play with me!?!” Their main qualification for friends is that you are willing to run around in a circle and make elephant noises. If you have a few crayons to share, even better.
Furthermore, kids are smart. Probably smarter than we give them credit for, and they are complete sponges when it comes to learning. As parents, we have to be very careful about the messages we are having them absorb. Our beliefs, for better or worse, go a long way to shaping their minds and actions for years to come.
This really isn’t directed at the horrible racist and bigoted parents who are intentionally preaching hate. Unfortunately, they will do everything in their power to turn their kids into horrible hate machines as well, and all we can do in that situation is hope that the kids turn out smart enough to realize the ignorant nonsense of their parents. The more we preach kindness and acceptance, the more of those kids we can help realize they do not have to walk that same path.
This is directed at the rest of us, and I am absolutely including myself in this group. The rest of us are not filled with hate. Most reasonable people in this day and age are pretty open minded and laid back when it comes to other cultures, races, sexualities, etc. Our social circles are mixed of all different backgrounds, and we want people to have equal opportunities at life. Different geographical and cultural areas may have a varying level of acceptance in different areas, but the point remains the same.
However, just because we don’t outwardly hate people, doesn’t mean we don’t perpetuate stereotypes. This can include ideas of what girls should do versus what boys should do, or generalizations about how certain races act. Our children absorb those biases, no matter how harmless or minor we think they might be. In some ways it’s worse from otherwise “reasonable” parents, because kids trust our beliefs to be reasonable, even as they get older. We want to teach our kids to look at both sides of any situation, and the more biased we are as parents, the more chance we have to bend their views.
I have biases and generalizations that I am not proud of, and in the great scheme of things they are pretty minor. Still, I do occasionally catch myself having thoughts about people that I get upset at myself for having. They aren’t hateful thoughts, but they are just simply wrong. The thoughts don’t reflect their shortcomings, they reflect mine.
My favorite example is years ago I was waiting in line at a midnight release for some movie or CD, I can’t remember which, and the guy in front of me was a young black man about my age who was dressed in urban fashion. We were talking for a while since the line wasn’t moving, and I asked him what he was in line for. He told me he was in line for the new season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. This shocked me, and when I realized why, I felt like a jerk. Of course he could like Buffy, and the only reason I was shocked is because of his appearance. My generalization wasn’t malicious, and it didn’t have any ill intent, but the point is that it was still very wrong.
So although I have some foolish generalizations like I described above, one thing I am extremely aware of is voicing any of those ideas around my daughter. She deserves to see the world and the beautiful people of all kinds in it without any of the clouded and stupid biases of her father. The world perpetrates enough of this nonsense (I’m looking at you Hollywood), and as parents we should be helping our kids build up a wall against that nonsense. We certainly shouldn’t be feeding into it.
We are never going to be completely unbiased. We are not perfect. Perfect is a totally absurd goal, but “better” is not. We can all be better, and if each generation is better at teaching the next generation than the one before it we will begin to see less of the hate filled videos or legislation that wouldn’t feel out of place in the southern states of the 1950’s. Every kid is born with the capacity to accept people or reject them for a multitude of reasons, our job as parents is to help make sure those reasons are a lot more important than the color of their skin, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.
So in short, teach your kids to accept others, and enjoy people for who they are. Let’s not let our biases become their burdens.