Some days it seems like the world is falling apart, being torn into pieces by hatred. We're constantly bombarded with news and images of racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, homophobia and xenophobia.
As an adult, it's difficult to process, but then I start thinking about the kids. What's going through their minds?
How are parents and teachers supposed to respond when children are exposed to adults, often those in authority, belittling others because of their color, religion, gender, or country of origin? Reported hate crimes have increased by 4.6 percent in 2016, according to the FBI. However, civil-rights group have found wide-spread systemic under-reporting of such acts.
It's pointing to a trend that deeply concerns me. As parents, we owe it to our kids to look at these warning signs and take action to put the brakes on this downward spiral. We have to make sure our children know hateful words and despicable actions are not acceptable – ever.
How can parents do this? In most cases, it begins with modeling behaviors at home.
"Social learning theory suggests that prejudice is learned in the same way other attitudes and values are learned, primarily through association, reinforcement, and modeling," said Diane Maluso, an associate professor of Psychology at Elmira College.
"The relationship between parents' and children's attitudes toward members of out-groups is consistent. Not only do parents teach prejudice directly through reinforcement, but children often learn their parents' prejudiced attitudes by simply observing their parents talking about and interacting with people from other groups."
And of course, children are influenced by the messages they receive from the world around them and this can happen at an early age. They may learn to associate a particular ethnic group with poverty, crime, violence and other bad things. Children will reproduce these messages if they are repeated often enough, and if they are reinforced by others, such as when friends laugh along at a derogatory joke or someone they look up to makes an ethnic slur.
"Children need adults to help them develop respect for and acceptance of others," said Rachel Berman, graduate program director of the School of Early Childhood Studies at Ryerson University in Toronto and a researcher on a project called, Can We Talk About Race? Confronting Colour-Blindness in Early Childhood Settings. She adds, "What's more, kids who may be targets of racism may need help negotiating their feelings and figuring out how to respond to what they're experiencing." Here's Berman advice to parents:
Infants and toddlers
Elementary School Age
Middle and High Schoolers
Children of all ages