Teaching Kids to Value Diversity: Combating Racism and Discrimination, Part I

By: Gene Roehlkepartain, Guest Blogger

Editor's Note: In this blog—part one of a two-part series—we examine why and how families can prevent racism and discrimination, and offer some talking tips for parents to use with their children. Subscribe to the ParentFurther Blog to stay tuned for part two in this series, which will present action steps for adults to take against racism and discrimination.

Today’s children and teens are living in a world that is more connected and more diverse than ever before. In order to thrive, they need to value their own culture and traditions while respecting those who are different from them.

The challenge is that this diversity is sometimes seen more as a threat than a strength, which can bring out racism, bias, and discrimination. These attitudes and actions are sources of considerable suffering for many people who are marginalized in society or communities because of who they are. Racial or ethnic background, religion, gender, abilities, sexual orientation or gender identity, immigrant status, and many other characteristics can marginalize a group of people from the majority.

So, how can you make a difference? Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Introduce your child to your own culture, traditions, and heritage. Researchers (for example, Brown, 2008; Hughes et al., 2006) consistently find that young people from minority groups have better life outcomes when they develop a sense of pride in their own heritage and culture. As parents, we can cultivate this strength by helping our children participate in meaningful activities and rituals, spend time with others who share their culture or tradition, or use their native or first language. It also comes from having positive messages and role models in the media and culture that reinforce the value of one’s heritage, culture, and identity.

    (Note: It is important to emphasize that developing pride in one’s heritage and culture is different from encouraging supremacist attitudes in which you believe your own heritage and culture is better than others and should dominate society.)

  • Expose your child to diverse cultures. One of the best ways to do this is to have friends and networks of people who invite your family to be part of their lives and celebrations. You can also learn to respect and value other cultures by experiencing their food, music, art, festivals, holidays, books, movies, and other close-to-home opportunities. Or it may involve traveling to other communities and countries where you can become immersed in another culture.

    In exploring other cultures, approach them with an attitude of interest and learning, not as though they are “weird” or “unusual” (even if they are unfamiliar to you). As you experience different aspects of other cultures or communities, seek out ways that increase your respect and understanding for their uniqueness. Try to find links to your own heritage as well.

  • Work together against racism and discrimination. A powerful way to influence your child is to engage alongside them in actions aimed at increasing social justice and eliminating discrimination and prejudice. This may include supporting organizations that fight discrimination, working on justice-oriented projects, and educating others about racism and other forms of discrimination.

Talking together about these priorities and values helps children internalize positive attitudes and commitments. Here are some talking tips to get the conversation started.

  • Bring up the issues. Sometimes we think that if we talk about racism and discrimination, we will reinforce it. It is better, we may presume, to be “color blind” so that our kids will see everyone as the same. However, from early ages, children notice differences and, without appropriate guidance, may misinterpret those differences in negative ways. Furthermore, they may think talking about differences is a taboo topic. It is much better to talk openly about the issues, challenging common stereotypes and encouraging mutual respect (Aboud & Doyle, 1996). In addition, young people who face bias or discrimination may be ill-prepared when confronted with it if they have come to assume that all people are treated the same.
  • Take advantage of teachable moments. Issues of bias, racism, and prejudice fill the news, school hallways, and other places around your community. When issues come up that highlight bias or discrimination, talk as a family about how your values influence your response. Be sure to listen to your child’s experiences and perspectives.
  • Challenge stereotypes, generalizations, and biases. Your teen will be exposed to racist and biased comments, stereotypes, and jokes. They may be from family members, friends, teachers, or public figures. Or they may be something he or she comes across on the Internet, in music, on television, or in other media. Regardless of the source, you can have a real impact by challenging negative stereotypes and assumptions. One way to respond is, “I've heard people say that about X people. In my experience, though, I have found…,” offering examples that refute the stereotype.

For more talking tips, see Helping Kids Thrive in a Diverse World >>

Dr. Eugene C. Roehlkepartain is Vice President of Research and Development at Search Institute. Roehlkepartain is widely recognized as an expert in child, youth, and family development in community contexts. Particular areas of interest include family strengths, community supports for families and youth, spiritual development, service-learning, youth philanthropy, and linking youth development with financial literacy.



Aboud, F. E., & Doyle, A.B. (1996). Parental and peer influences on children’s racial attitudes. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 20(3/4), 371-383.

Brown, D. L. (2008). African American resiliency: Examining racial socialization and social support as protective factors. Journal of Black Psychology, 34(1), 22-48. DOI: 10.1177/0095798407310538.

Hughes, D., Rodriguez, J., Smith, E. P., Johnson, D. J., Stevenson, H. C., & Spicer, P. (2006). Parent’s ethnic-racial socialization practices: A review of research and directions for future study. Developmental Psychology, 42(5), 747-770. DOI: 10.1037/0012-1649.42.5.747.

Photo Credit: LilGoldWmn on SXC.

Excellent! Any family can do even one of the suggested activities and it will begin to make a more intentional difference!

[...] Attend a cultural event as a family. Become more familiar with people of different backgrounds. Get more tips for teaching kids to value diversity >> [...]


An excellent article touching on an important topic and great suggestions on how to approach the topic. Awesome tips on introducing your kid to their own heritage and how to approach other cultures with interest and increasing respect and understanding for other cultures.


This is an exceptional article. The issue of discrimination needs to be discussed in families. When children grow up experiencing other cultures and valuing their own traditions, they are more likely to refute biased views of others.

For a related article, “Learning the Value of Diversity,” click on:

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