Estimated read time : 5 minutes
Look at that boy. He likes to read St. Clares books. Those are girl’s books.
Her heart is as black as her skin.
How can blue be her favourite colour? It’s a ‘boy colour’.
Those two boys are holding hands. Isn’t that weird?
She’s such a fatso. Let’s not call her to your birthday party.
Hard to believe, but these are all sentences I have heard in the last year. And many more in the same line as well which are glaring biased sentiments. All from children below the age of 15 years.
I live in Mumbai; in one of the high-rise buildings where I see children gaining education and exposure to the world/opinions/thoughts in a great way. Hearing such statements from the young adults who are going to take over the world one day is a reflection of the deep-seated bias that exists in our society. These biases go further than thoughts and actually influence behaviour in children.
In addition, recent incidents in India and the US have made us realise the importance of talking to children about bias and stereotypes. It is tough to isolate children from what is happening around them, but what you can do is that you can sensitize them to help mould them into positive and constructive thinkers.
It would be naive to think that we can resolve the bias that exists by following a few tips. However, we need to start right now to do our bit. I started the same with my daughter; some of these work while some need continuous reiteration with the little ones.
When an adult makes a discriminatory statement, make sure you stand up to say what’s right in front of your child. Children pick up on cues and immediately figure out what is acceptable and what’s not. For example – if someone makes a derogatory remark about a community or economic status of another person, make sure you say that it is a generalisation and unfair in front of the person.
An important topic to discuss with your child is bullying. This should be dealt with the help of a story, by delving into the feelings of those who bully and who are being bullied. You can use animals as protagonists in your story to help explain better. Bullying often breeds contempt for others and the concept can be discussed with children as und as 2 years old.
Books like Rebel girls or A boy with a backpack are beautiful and easy ways to explain to children that it’s OK to be different. They help drive home the fact that being different is not bad/wrong and how people can strive to do things against the odds. They also speak of racial, financial and gender biases.
Today’s news is full of stories about Floyd and Sammy and it’s a conversation to be had in your own way to tell your child what’s wrong about what happened. Similarly discussing the Fair and Lovely advertisement or any other popular media content that perpetrates stereotypes with regard to gender, colour, or race – even if meant to be funny – is important.
Using the word ‘sissy’ or saying that ‘the witch has a black heart’ are all vocabulary we need to unlearn. We say things without thinking and don’t even realise when they could be teaching our children bias. Be particular and conscious when talking about incidents or describing people in front of your child. When you say it or they hear/read about such statements, explain where they originated from and how they are not relevant any more.
Helping children understand the concept of inner strength and beauty will help build self-respect and make him/her a friend to those who may be victims of bias. Talking to children with stories and personalising them with your family or animals (depending on the age of the child) go a long way to help them understand the same.
Bias and stereotypes are important issues being faced by people in our own neighbourhood as well as across the world.
Our responsibility lies with educating and sensitizing our children in the ways we best possibly can – so that they are armed with the necessary tools when they go out into the big bad world and make it into a better place.