Issues of teen racism arise more often than diversity-loving adults might want to believe. From New York high school students accused of tweeting racist comments about President-elect Barrack Obama in November 2012 to two Gainesville, Florida, teens who were expelled from school after posting a racist rant on YouTube in February of the same year, racist issues persist. If you want to be part of the solution, start at home, teaching your teen to value acceptance and understanding.
Speak openly about race and ethnicity. Your teen will recognize racial differences, but help her understand that different doesn’t mean bad, suggests an article on The Leadership Conference's website. Teach your teen what you know about different cultures, and work with her to learn about cultures that are unfamiliar to you both. By demonstrating this eagerness to learn, you can show your teen that difference is something to be explored, not feared.
Discuss racist comments your child makes critically. If your child says something that could be perceived as racist, your first instinct might be to punish her for speaking in such a way. Instead of immediately dispensing a sanction, talk about the comment, suggests Beverly Tatum, author of “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations about Race,” in an article for Parenting.com. Ask your teen why he feels that way and discuss how your experiences differ, encouraging him to reconsider his viewpoint.
Use teachable moments effectively. Any time you see anything that pertains to race or race relations, use it as a teachable moment, encourages Tatum. If you watch a show with your teen that includes racist undertones, talk about it. If your teen is reading a book in school that deals with race or learning about an important civil rights movement figure, increase the effectiveness of those school lessons by talking about how much you value acceptance and understanding. The more frequently you discuss this topic, the more likely it is that your teen will remember and live by your lessons.
Empower your teen to do something about racism. If you want your message of acceptance to extend beyond your teen, encourage him to actively work to reduce racism. Provide your teen with some tips for what he can do to cure racism, such as those outlined in the Close the Book on Hate resource, “101 Ways to Combat Prejudice,” a document produced in joint effort with the Anti-Defamation League and Barnes & Noble. This simple pamphlet provides some practical and actionable tips for your teen (see Resources).