SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – How we parent certainly influences how our children see race. As part of our coverage, we asked parents and experts how families can foster diversity by sparking conversations on race, equality, and privilege.
Andrea Bishop, Executive Director of the Betty & Bobby Ozarks Counseling Center says by preschool age, children begin to pick up on different skin colors. And by the age of 9, they are able to recognize societal and systemic disparities among groups of people.
So the question is: How do we raise the next generation of culturally competent kids?
“When we first moved to Springfield that was one of my concerns is that “how am I going to make sure that she has that exposure to diversity,” says Caron Parnell, a Springfield parent who also teaches the French language at a local high school.
Caron and her husband Patrick Parnell say they have made both conscious and subconscious efforts to educate their daughters on diversity and treat everyone equally.
“I think you can do both. I think you can live your life and serve as a good role model for your children so they can see that everyone should be treated equally, but then I think that you can sit down and have those conversations,” says Caron.
And while Andrea Bishop agrees, she says parents can use opportunities in daily life to foster an even deeper message.
“Pretending like there aren’t any differences in color is to deny a bigger conversation. If a child would mention while the family was out that they saw someone of color, comment on that, the better response in terms of teaching your family values, would be to say… ‘Yes, the lady is brown, and people come in all different types of colors. An acknowledgment of that, and not pretending that are the same and we’re all equal sets us up to then deny that there are privileges that different folks have, white people, have, in our society.”
Patrick Parnell is the Director of International Services at Missouri State. He says despite being around different cultures on a daily basis, he still could still do more to educate his two daughters on diversity and privilege.
“I would say that we can be more intentional at how we look at the world with my children. I can do it myself professionally and personally, but I also believe that we can do it in a way that’s productive and that can help them out in the future. “
So what if a child were to bring up a news story regarding racial injustice or protests?
Andrea Bishop says “It would be a perfect opportunity to talk about, injustice does happen, and then according to the age, add whatever details would be appropriate. And ‘some people actually think that people deserve different treatment because of the color of their skin,’ isn’t that unfair? Small children, in particular, feel unfairness very keenly and they are eager to empathize.”
Bishop says while you can’t protect your child from every influence, you can control what you put before them.
”If all of the role models in the history books, and in the books at home and on the television shows are all white, then every kid is going to pick up on the implicit message that whiteness is good, whiteness is powerful, whiteness gets things done, whiteness is entitled and people of color are not, just by default.”