KIDS AND PREJUDICE
With everything that happened this week in Paris, people are once again taking up the prejudice banner. They are speaking out on Facebook, in blogs, in interviews, and on other social media sites about the hazards of trusting others because of their religious beliefs. Now I don't really care what adults believe. Their opinions have had years to percolate and boil until the fear that started them down their chosen road has become almost natural to them. But, I do care what kids think!
No child is born intolerant to different opinions. All you have to do is visit a day care center or a Homestart classroom to confirm it. Once inside, you will see kids from every race, religion, and belief, playing and learning side-by-side. This is the way the world should be as far as I am concerned. However, this is not the case. Why? Could it be that prejudice is actually a learned response?
The dictionary defines prejudice as a"preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience". So, if it is not actually based on reason or experience, how do kids develop prejudices? You have it--from the adults around them.
Not too long ago I met a 9 year old who was appalled that his classmate said "Oh God". So, expecting to hear that it wasn't right to use the word in vain, I asked him why he was upset. His response, "Because he doesn't even believe in God. He believes in Mohammad."
Really? And, who started him down the path to prejudice? Is it too late to alter his path, and the path of so many kids who have learned how to be intolerant of others? In a word--NO! Any learned behavior can be unlearned. But why start down that road in the first place? Kids need to be raised in a prejudice-free zone.
They need to know where they came from and be willing to share their heritage with others. They need to experience different cultures whether through friends, books, or the community. They need to be surrounded with people who are willing to stand up for others who may be suffering prejudice, and explained why it is important to do so. They need not fear others just because of the color of their skin, their culture, or the clothing they wear for religious reasons. And, above all, they need as much accurate information--good and bad--as possible so that they can make up their own minds whether a situation is true or not.
Kids are not born prejudice, and this would be a much better world if they stayed that way.