Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Teaching Our Children To Understand and Respect Differences: Lessons From The Lincoln Memorial

On this frigid winter afternoon, I cozied up under a comforter and read and watched everything I could find about the Friday afternoon events that took place at the Lincoln Memorial where three diverse groups of people faced off and confronted each other. This is what makes America great! In this sacred space there was a group of mostly white privileged boys from a catholic high school in Kentucky wearing MAGA hats, standing opposite a group of black Hebrew Israelites, and bringing up the middle, a group of people representing the Indigenous People's March. Ain't America great!

I watched youtube videos and interviews from the people on the scene. I listened to commentary and opinions from people who initially said the boys were the antagonists, and then it was the black hebrew israelites who instigated with angry comments and then the reports of  what seems like the hero of the story, Indigenous leader Nathan Phillips stepping in to separate and calm these two groups. Honestly, I have no idea, after spending hours of research what exactly happened. And truthfully, the details hardly matter. What matters is the stereotyping that occurred, blaming each and every group. Was it that these boys wearing MAGA hats reportedly acting disrespectfully and chanting Build The Wall, or the Black Israelites shouting profanity at these boys, or the Indigenous group challenging these boys in some way? Or is it that our country is ill-prepared for accepting that we are a melting pot of ideas, cultures, politics, color, and religion. Have we prepared our youth and our communities for our changing country? This is the problem. How have you prepared your child for the world they will live in as adults? Is the school your child attends or the community you live you in representative of the diversity of the country we live in?  Do you get out of your own comfort zone, and get to know people who are completely unlike you? Do you take the time to really get to know people who are completely different than you in sexual orientation, race, religion, culture, or socioeconomic circumstances? Truthfully we probably are all more comfortable with people who most share our values and life.

Some months back I listened to this story on NPR about a small conservative republican coal mining community in Kentucky who teamed up with a liberal democratic community in Leverett, Ma to see if they could find some common ground. These could not have been more divergent groups in politics, and life style, each feeling that the other was wrong. But after spending a week living and talking together, they found friendship. love and shared values. It is possible!!! We don't have to agree to be like each other to respect each other. We just have to commit to understanding and learn about each other. (see article below)


So regardless of what exactly happened on Friday at the Lincoln Memorial, can we agree at least to teach our children to respect the differences that our country has always embraced? Here are some things you can do:

  • Challenge teen’s thinking in stereotypes. Provide teens with structured opportunities to get to know people who differ from them. At the 22ndAnnual Youth Congress, students suggested “mix-it up dinners where students sit with “classmates they don’t know.” As a family, seek out experiences where your children can interact with people from all kinds of backgrounds and beliefs.
  • Model inclusion. The adults in children’s lives are the most influential in transmitting values of acceptance. When I was a fresh out of grad school therapist, I was seeing a couple that were experiencing difficulty with their teen. In a predominately catholic town, their daughter had started a relationship with a Jewish boy. The parents used phrases like “those Jews” in describing their worry about this relationship. With fear and anxiety about ruining my tenuous therapeutic connection, I timidly said, “I am one of “those Jews.”
  • Anticipate and strategize: Help your teen to be prepared for situations that might challenge them. Because of their inexperience, many teens end up doing the wrong thing because they don’t know what else to. 

Adolescence is a messy stage. Teen behavior is layered. Good kids do bad things; caring and kind kids can be cruel and insensitive; and sensible and smart kids can be impulsive and reckless. As teens move through this stage from childhood to adulthood, they are confronted with new feelings, new thoughts, and new impressions of their world. They are without precedent and experience and often react with emotion, not thought. But teens and adults alike share so many common, human experiences, regardless of class, race, religion, and sexual orientation. Let these be the bridge to mutual respect.

PS. If this post feels helpful to you, please share it with fellow parents. We can change the world, one family at a time!

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