Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

Our society has made great strides when it comes to being accepting – not just tolerant – of others. We are living in a time of the nation’s first black president, where women have made strides toward professional equality, and gay marriage bills are being considered and passed in states throughout the country. Even the media has been under pressure to portray reality instead of the stereotypes that have plagued our programming for so long. However, the messages being sent out to our teens are still overpowered with intolerance.

Things aren’t perfect, not even close. Many times we instantaneously judge others based on their appearance. Laws passed in states like Arizona and Florida allow for discrimination based solely on appearance, and many Americans are nervous on an airplane if another passenger has a turban wrapped around his head. Stereotypes persist: the elderly and women can’t drive, those that dress in all black worship Satan, and people with piercings and tattoos aren’t intelligent. All these ridiculous judgments make raising an accepting teen a daunting task. As a parent it is not uncommon to wonder how you can possibly fight those misconceptions.

Strengths lie in differences and I believe parents can be advocates for a better world. Through your example, your teen will learn that differences are important. In teaching your teens not to judge, especially not on outside appearances, you teach them to have more respect for others as well as more respect for themselves. When you show a level of respect for all people no matter how they live their life, your teen will learn to do the same.

We all have our own prejudices and biases. The best way to teach tolerance and acceptance to your teen is to exhibit it yourself. Be honest with your teen even when you still have to remind yourself to be less judgmental, more tolerant, and more accepting of those different than you. Show them that you sometimes have to make a conscious effort to make the right choice. Use stereotypes the media perpetuates as opportunities to talk to your teens about acceptance and tolerance. Your teens are perfect just the way they are and so is everyone else. That’s the critical message.

Children are not born with prejudices and biases; they do not see color, race, or ethnicity. Intolerance is something that is taught. Tolerance and acceptance can be taught the same way and that is the message you want your teen to hear.