Teaching Tolerance & Acceptance in a Changing World

Teaching Tolerance & Acceptance in a Changing World . According to the latest FBI data, there were 8,052 single-bias hate crimes reported for the year 2020 alone, consisting of 11,126 victims, numbers that have risen dramatically in recent years. Because most hate crimes go unreported, the actual number is likely much greater.

Notably, young men under 26 are the perpetrators of a significant percentage of these violent acts, according to various agencies. Religious-based biases, as well as ethnic and racial biases, are learned during early childhood, explains the Leadership Conference Education Fund. Young children exposed to these prejudices hold numerous stereotypes by the time they reach the age of twelve.

In a society as diverse as the United States, the misconceptions often held toward those who are different, including those of other religious faiths, is troubling. As parents and educators, we must strive to change these patterns, so our kids grow into kind and accepting adults.

Part of the problem is that kids, like adults, learn of violence perpetrated by individuals within a particular religion and come to believe that everyone within that faith is violent. So kids need to understand there will always be a few bad apples within any religion, even their own. Individuals who commit violence don’t define the character of everyone or even a majority within that group or religion.

Tolerance begins at home

There are many ways to teach children religious tolerance. But we must first recognize that our own attitudes and actions toward those of different faiths play a crucial role. Children are observant and catch even the subtlest stereotyping and discriminatory behaviors. According to experts, attitudes held by those living in the home will have the greatest impact on the way children perceive people who are different.

There are many ways you can encourage your child to accept those of other faiths and even those of no faith. If you haven’t already, explain your beliefs to your child and why you hold your views. Then share factual, non-derogatory information about other religious beliefs as well.

Read books with your child on world religions, diversity, and tolerance.

Have open discussions and encourage questions. Explain the importance of religious freedom for your own family and why it’s also essential for others. Then make sure your child understands being accepting of another doesn’t mean you must hold that person’s beliefs as true.

Learning tolerance outside the home

Talk to your kid’s school, as recommended by Tolerance.org, to make sure textbooks and curricula are up to date to reflect equity and multiculturalism. Ask teachers and staff if and how they approach the task of teaching tolerance in the classroom. If the school or class doesn’t already include tolerance education in its program, try to help activate it. Ask if you can share ideas with staff. Also, learn other ways you can assist the school in promoting positive attitudes toward diversity.

Help your child develop acceptance by sharing the beliefs of relatives and friends who hold different views from your own. It often comes as a surprise, even to adults, to learn some family members hold very different religious beliefs. Ask those of other views to share with your child what they believe and why. Make sure these adults understand your purpose, so they won’t attempt to proselytize your child or criticize your own beliefs. Instead, ask them to share their beliefs with neutrality. When your child discovers that good, well-respected family members and friends hold a wide range of beliefs, your child will be better equipped to accept others as well.

Fight Intolerance

Another recommendation by Tolerance.org is to encourage your child to fight stereotypes and intolerance actively. Help your child to form a club, study circle, or sponsor a walkathon for diversity. Your child will have the opportunity to meet kids of other beliefs while at the same time, learning the importance of social responsibility.

Also, confront biased behavior expressed by family and friends, especially if your child witnesses it. For example, if grandma complains that her “Jewish neighbors don’t take care of their lawn,” don’t brush the comment aside. Otherwise, both grandmother and your child will perceive your silence as acceptance of the stereotype or prejudicial remark.

Confronting family and friends isn’t easy but can be done tactfully. Don’t criticize. Just nonchalantly but clearly acknowledge grandmother’s frustrations with the unkempt yard. Then point out it has nothing to do with being Jewish. By doing so, your child will learn such biased comments are not necessarily valid. It also teaches your child not to be apathetic toward intolerance.

If your child attends church, Sunday school, or other religious functions, talk with the leaders and teachers to learn their attitudes and levels of tolerance. Many are accepting of different religious views.

Unfortunately, some religious leaders perpetuate intolerance by preaching against nonbelievers, those of other faiths, or people or groups that don’t adhere to their specific lifestyle guidelines. Other religious leaders may contribute to stereotyping in more subtle ways.

Kids are very perceptive, though, and will recognize the biases all the same. If you do detect prejudiced attitudes, look for another church or denomination that’s less biased.

Finally, talk with your church about ways it can teach and promote religious tolerance among its youth. After all, the desire for peace on earth is common among most of the world’s religions.

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