In light of recent events, I thought it was fitting to do a post about teaching tolerance of others to teens. I honestly am not a fan of the word “tolerance” since it has the connotation of just “putting-up with” or merely “tolerating” those who are different from you. I instead like to think that teens can be understanding and accepting of others. I think they can actually enjoy the differences, imagine that. We as a society have obviously messed something up somewhere but this cycle of hate doesn’t have to continue.
In a lot of ways young adults today seem to have more experience with different races, religions, and sexual orientations than past generations. Classrooms are becoming more diverse and even the media is breaking down a lot of diversity stereotypes (on the other hand however, they are making some worse). Most parents welcome this, as they should, while others seem less enthused.
One way to promote understanding is to make all students aware of the truth. This means teaching them history accurately. Not the watered down, Disney esque, version that is taught in most politically run schools today. I mean the real history of the world. All the nitty gritty details of it. The book Lies My Teacher Told Me is one of my absolute favorites. A tough read for teens but as a parent, who is educating your child, I suggest you give a read through.
I have to mention, that I believe you should try to be unbiased as possible when teaching history to your children. It’s very easy to sway historical events to be the fault of this group or that because you personally feel that way. Stick to the facts. Come to the understanding that no group has clean hands when it comes to history. I will be posting a history cheat sheet for anyone who needs a little help to better explain some complicated historical events, like the Crusades.
We can just talk about the elephant in the blog and mention Islam education. Their religion is a complex one and it is important for our teens to understand it. It would appear that tensions in the Middle East and tensions with the U.S. are not going to subside anytime soon thanks to the control that ISIS has acquired. I think teens should have a general understanding of all world religions in order to be able to make better assumptions and judgements of current world issues.
Tolerance isn’t something that needs to even be as vast as world religions and politics. Teaching teens to be tolerant of other students and members of the community is a great place to start. Most teens I have encountered understand to respect others who are handicapped or impaired in anyway. Some will still find an opportunity to mock the other’s pain but for the most part I feel that young people are generally good natured in that way. However, I think it’s much easier for teens to make fun of, or belittle, those with less visible ailments. For instance, a student who is suffering from Asperger’s may be a target because they do not understand the same social cues as everyone else. Their impairment is not a visible one making it easier for teens to target someone with a social problem.
I think a great way for parents to explain this to a teen if they talk about a student who maybe isn’t the best at socializing (or who is extremely solitary or who takes too long to answer questions in class) is to explain they think and process information differently than your teen does. This doesn’t mean they are any better or worse than your teen. In fact, the student struggling may have skills your teen does not. For instance, they may be very artistic or know more about a particular subject that your teen struggles with. Making light of their talents instead of their social inequalities is a good way to see them as equals for your teen.
Getting out to volunteer is another way to teach tolerance. Places like homeless shelters, nursing homes, other schools, libraries, and other community outlets will introduce them to people they may have not encountered otherwise. Seeing the less fortunate can do the same. There are many inspiring stories out there about young people starting fundraisers and doing great acts for those who need it. There’s an organization called Teen Line where teens volunteer to speak or text with other teens who may be in crisis or just need someone to talk to.
Never discourage your teen’s (or younger child’s) curiosity of those around you. Sometimes you may be asked something that you think is rude, or racist, or unacceptable; however, if they are generally unsure about something you need to be able to answer them honestly and respectfully. Steer them towards the appropiate response and reactions to the world around them.
The biggest and best way to teach tolerance to your teens? Be tolerant yourself. I know, this is groundbreaking stuff. But if you are accepting and helpful to others they will see that and emulate you. Remember that they are listening, all the time. So be wary of using hateful slang and furthering any sort of stereotypical ideology that you may have grown up with yourself.
Some reading recommendations for teaching diversity to teens:
“Chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he was destined to live.”
“Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness.”
“My name is August. I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.”
“Tragedy forces Esperanza and Mama to flee to California during the Great Depression, and to settle in a camp for Mexican farm workers. Esperanza isn’t ready for the hard labor, financial struggles, or lack of acceptance she now faces.”
“A gripping and intensely touching debut middle grade novel by Kerry O’Malley Cerra, Just a Drop of Water brings the events of September 11, which shook the world, into the lens of a young boy who is desperately trying to understand the ramifications of this life-altering event.”
“The world is too busy crumbling to pieces to pay attention to a 17-year-old girl.”