Teaching Our Kids About Those Who Are Different

Growing up, I wasn’t exposed much to many other cultures, beliefs, or sexualities. Girls married boys. Boys married girls. People believed in God. Nearly everyone around me shared a similar skin tone. That was that. We didn’t have much diversity training back then.

It remained that way as I got older and, because of this, much of my opinion was based on the words of others. By the time college rolled around, I was meeting new people from all different walks of life. They call it “culture shock” and I was shocked all over the place.

In the twenty years since then, I’ve come to a basic conclusion. All people are the same. Yeah, some are bad and some are good, but none of that is based strictly on color, creed, or sexuality. There are angels and demons in every variety around the world.

That was when I got older, though. At a young age, I worried about how I could parent my child in such a diverse world. For example, what would I do as a parent when the subject of same-sex relationships came up? Because I had only heard about it from afar at that point, it felt like a delicate subject. It was something whispered about among adults. Even saying it out loud in front of a five year old would surely force a rumbling that would crumble the walls around us.

By the time I was an actual father, that worry had faded. After a solid amount of time meeting and interacting with people of all backgrounds, I had started to form the all-the-same mentality. Then, following a lifetime of waiting for the moment when my kid would learn about this “delicate” subject, it happened. It felt anticlimactic when it finally did.

raceMy wife, daughter, and I had just started the new season of “The Amazing Race”. After deciding that this would be a family-friendly show to bring our then-seven year old into the loop on, we settled down for a race around the world. It was then that we met the team of Tyler and Korey – who were dating. We were all watching quietly when Olivia broke the silence.

Ha ha. A boy dating a boy.

This was the moment I had mentally prepared for when I was younger. It felt nowhere near as big of a deal as it did in my head years earlier. Not ever close.

Yeah. Sometimes boys date boys.

Really?

Sure. Sometimes girls date girls too. People date different people. We’re not all the same.

I braced myself for the barrage of questions that were sure to follow. Sitting back, I waited for the floodgates to open.

Oh. OK.

That was it. Not just it for that day either. It forever. Since then, whether it’s been real life or on television, Olivia has never flinched when seeing a gay couple. It just is. She knows that. I told her. No big whoop.

We didn’t make a big deal out of it. She doesn’t make a big deal out of it. That’s because it’s not a big deal. It’s life and, when they encounter it, you explain it. There’s no need for a sit down pow-wow and there’s nothing good about running out of the room if they ask you about something that they will need in order to interact in society.

It’s not limited to sexuality either. I remember racist jokes being told by those around me as early as third grade. It was the way things were. By the time I began meeting people of different colors and backgrounds, it was all a bit of a letdown. Many were just like many other people I had met before them. Their skin color was incidental.

That was something that also came up fairly early with my daughter and then never came up again. It was nursery school when I picked her up and she began telling me about her day.

Who did you play with today?

Kelly. She’s the girl with, um, the strange eyes.

It came out of nowhere and I remember my internal reaction knocking me silly. Kelly was the Asian girl. My kid said her eyes were strange. That’s not good.

They’re not strange. She’s Asian. There are actually lots and lots of people in the world with eyes like hers. They look pretty.

Brace. Wait. Open floodgates…

Oh. OK. So Kelly was playing as the mommy and she had the doll…

That’s it. Like it was nothing. Six years has passed, and many friends of different ethnicities later, it’s never come up again. She’s asked me more questions about cheese than race and sexuality combined.

At the end of the day, whatever you make into a big deal now will be a big deal for your child’s entire life. It doesn’t matter what it is. Teach them to fear Styrofoam and they will cower at packing peanuts forever unless someone shows them how you were wrong. Teach them to fear people and the same thing will happen.

There are so many real things for a person to be afraid of in the real world. Grouping people into categories based on anything besides “nice” and “crappy” seems counterproductive when living or training someone else for life. Most adults know that’s the case already, even if they don’t follow it all the time. The least we can do is teach our children to be accepting of all people and give them a life free of another pointless fear.

Every day, we interact with individuals of all different backgrounds. It’s how we live, earn, and thrive. Our kids will have to do the same and their kids after that will too. It’s our job to teach them how to be a productive and positive force in the world. Show your children that they can work with anyone anywhere on anything and there’s no limit to what they’ll be able to accomplish.

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