The world is changing very quickly, and as it seems hard for us to wrap our heads around issues that directly affect us, it is important to take a second and look at how these issues will impact our children and their peers. With so much news and entertainment around the issue of new executive orders being signed by President Trump, it is important for us to educate our children on what these matters are from the the Travel Ban to the Wall on the borders, and the deportation of immigrants mean. It is also important to educate children to become critical thinkers and information seekers for factual evidence and not what is portrayed in the media. Not to mention, how it is critical that we do not display our own bias when talking to children, we must provide them with multiple sources of information and encourage them to make their own informed opinions on issues.
Speaking to children on complex issues can be done with children as early as elementary school age when. The way to teach a child something new or out of the realm of their thinking is by using the information they already know and are familiar with, what they have heard from others and build on the topic from there. You have to get to their level for them to understand what you are trying to explain in a neutral manner to avoid projecting stereotypes.
The first step in talking to your child(ren) about immigration or what the Travel Ban (Muslim Ban) means, is to educate them on the historical background of these acts and their implications on the people they targeted, and then how these acts are currently playing out. It is important that we make sure children understand that the people affected by these issues are human beings first no different than them, they want the pursuit of happiness, a good education, a home to live in, and live free of persecution.
A study was done to examine stereotypes and prejudicial attitudes about Arab Muslims in comparison to other groups in an elementary school , “U.S Children’s Stereotypes and Prejudicial Attitudes toward Arab Muslims.” Students were given three scenarios, an Arab Muslim family immigrating to the US, showing individuals in Muslim garbs, Arab Muslim family immigrating to the US with no Muslim garb, and a family from Ireland immigrating to the US. Some students responded negatively and others positively. The elementary school students who had Arab Muslim friends or knew Arab Muslims and had an idea what Islam is were least likely to stereotype them, whereas students who did not know much Arab Muslims or Islam saw the Arab men as hostile and Arab women as oppressed.
“Children’s responses indicated stereotypes associating the Arab Muslim male target as more anti-American and hostile and the Arab Muslim female target as more oppressed than others, both consistent with prevalent media stereotypes.” (Brown, C. S., Ali, H., Stone, E. A., & Jewell, J. A., 2017)
Furthermore, the study shows how much of an important role parents and educators play when it comes to talking to children about people, diversity, news, and history. Children take what they are taught and build on it whether it is positive or negative. With education and experience, some of the children had positive feelings towards Arab Muslims because they knew Arab Muslims and had known some things about Islam.
“Children who had some contact with Muslims or were familiar with Islam felt more positively toward Arab Muslims than less informed children. In addition, if children perceived Arab Muslims to be prototypical “Americans,” and identified as very American themselves, they also held positive attitudes toward Arab Muslims.” (Brown, C. S., Ali, H., Stone, E. A., & Jewell, J. A., 2017).
When talking to children about current events, you want them to remember these are fellow human beings no matter their religion, skin color, ethnicity or sexual orientation. With this mindset, it is much easier to put things into perspective for them. Using history and talking about the Holocaust, the Japanese Internment Camps, Rwandan genocide, Bosnian genocide and comparing that to what is occurring today in Syria, Myanmar, Yemen and other places in the world affected by war and conflict, children can grasp the concepts of the situation and see the injustice that is happening. With that, they become more concerned, loving, and can care about people without discrimination. They can see the different wrongs that occurred in history and how it is currently repeating and then being able to determine that what is happening is unfair and is not a part of our American values , or humanity as a whole. Thus, no longer fearing people who are different because the media says so.
In closing, schools should make critical thinking in classrooms a priority as well as being more culturally informed by implementing cultural diversity training for teachers and parents so that they can educate students on these issues with human compassion.
References: Brown, C. S., Ali, H., Stone, E. A., & Jewell, J. A. (2017). US Children’s Stereotypes and Prejudicial Attitudes toward Arab Muslims. Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy.