Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Friends are relatives you make for yourself.  ~Eustache Deschamps

“Peer groups have an important impact on children by at least 5 to 6 years of age” (Bigler, 1995)

As I continue to research the subject of race, and how children address the differences they notice in each other, I keep finding information that reminds me how important it is for each of us to have friends from other cultures. 
One study found that, "children with at least one reciprocated high quality interracial friendship were more socially skilled, rated higher on a sociability measure, and participated in more diverse social networks than children with no interracial friendships." (Hunter & Elias, 1999)
It seems appears that, when we give our children opportunities to be friends with children from other cultures, we give them academic, behavioral and social advantages, and even help decrease racial prejudice as they grow into adults.¹
But will they choose these friendships on their own, or do we have to help? Rebecca Bigler, a researcher at the University of Texas, contends that children may extend their beliefs about shared appearances and assume that the kids who look similar to themselves also enjoy doing the same things. Which infers that the children who look different will probably enjoy doing different things, and they might have nothing in common, so why try to be friends? Even a study on interracial friendships between college students (which you can read here) discussed how white students who were randomly paired with black roommates ended up having more black friends than white students who were assigned to white roommates. 
Do we accept people of different colors and racial backgrounds to be our friends, as adults? Should we? I think so. Do we specifically try to arrange playdates for our children with other children from different cultures? Do we invite children of all races to play at our houses after school? Giving our children the chance to discover what they have in common with someone who looks a little different than they do, is incredibly important, especially when they are young, but really, all their lives.
As parents, let’s encourage our children to mingle – let’s make sure we give them opportunities to meet children from different cultures and ethnic backgrounds so their lives are richer and fuller and they have a better chance of growing into adults without racial prejudice.

1. Aboud & Levy, 2000; Ellison & Powers, 1994; Pettigrew, 1997; 1998; Pettigrew & Tropp, 2000. Lease & Blake, 2005.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Diverse Environment Theory

 Many a person has held close, throughout their entire lives, two friends that always remained strange to one another, because one of them attracted by virtue of similarity, the other by difference.  ~Emil Ludwig

As I mentioned in my first post, I have friends who come from all over the world. Some are different colors, some speak English with a foreign accent, and I love it. I have always thought that because I embrace other nationalities and races with open arms, my daughter will get a better understanding of different cultures and be accepting and loving of everyone, no matter how they look.

Researchers call this the “Diverse Environment Theory,” and I think it is true, to a certain extent. Environments are educational and I think it is vital to be an example for my daughter in every way. I think it is imperative for every parent to be a role model – both in their words and their friendships.

But there is more to it. If we, as parents, don’t talk about race, our children will naturally try to categorize the people around them using their most obvious attributes, which is what they see – color. I want to believe that because I encourage a diverse environment at home, my daughter will grow up to be accepting of everyone around her, but that may just be wishful thinking, and not actual fact. I need to talk about it.

Researchers have noticed that parents are often very comfortable discussing gender with their children, and we work hard to remind our children that boys and girls don’t have to fit into any stereotyped gender role. That should be our model for discussing race. Girls can be doctors or presidents, just like boys, but doctors and presidents can also be any skin color.

I thought of a few ideas to include discussions about different races and cultures in my home every day, and maybe you will want to try to incorporate them, too.

1)      Make it a point to talk about your meals. For example, where do tacos come from? How are the people in Mexico different from us?
2)      Talk about holiday traditions from other cultures, whether European, African or Asian. (You may have to do some research!)
3)      Don’t shush your children when they make a comment about the color of someone’s hair or skin, or the shape of their eyes. Take time to teach them about other cultures. Don’t let race become a subject that is unmentionable.
4)      Be explicit in conversations with your children. When you have discussions, be clear. Make sure they know what words like, “equal,” actually mean.

There is a really great website here where I spent quite a bit of time learning more about the history of racial discrimination in our country. Take a few minutes to click through the site, as it may help you understand how vital it is to teach our children the importance of accepting others and give you more historical information to discuss.

Don’t be afraid to have conversations with your children.

Bronson, Po and Merryman, Ashley “See Baby Discriminate” Newsweek. 04 September, 2009. 21 October, 2010. <>