Young children typically have an easy time accepting diversity when they’re exposed to it. Teens can be a different story, and there are a couple of reasons why teens may be less accepting of parents teaching tolerance importance.
For one thing, adolescence can sometimes lend itself to what can seem to parents like a state of perpetual intolerance. Teens may be intolerant of their parents, their siblings, the rules, the family traditions or previously enjoyable activities that they deem too childish or unsophisticated for their current age.
It’s very normal for teenagers to reject things that make them feel restricted or that seem childish to them – it’s part of growing up. But it does mean that some teens might just be primed to reject things – and people – for sometimes arbitrary reasons.
Social pressures also come into play. Teens tend to form groups or cliques of close friends, but these groups are often held together by some degree of conformity.
Teens often think of themselves as nonconformists because they reject their parents’ values, rules, or fashion sense. But when it comes to their peers, teenagers are often much more willing to conform. And because teen friend groups often rely on conformity, diversity can seem threatening.
In the worst-case scenarios, teens may pressure and encourage each other into engaging in bullying that targets peers outside their clique for their differences.
But even in less egregious cases, teens who cling to friend groups where everyone is basically alike may begin to consciously or unconsciously avoid exposing themselves to people who they perceive different, and that can lead to misinformation, bias, and a general lack of awareness about those differences.
However, intolerance doesn’t have to be the default state for teenagers. There are plenty of things a parent can do to help prevent their teens from going down that road.
And there are good reasons to cultivate a spirit of tolerance in your teen – teaching tolerance and acceptance of others leads to better social skills overall, and that can translate into more success in academic and professional settings as well as a more rewarding and fulfilling social life.
Take a look at some of the things that parents can do to teach tolerance in teens.
Broaden Your Teens’ Social Circle
To some extent, teens’ friendships often come down to which school they attend and what neighborhood they live in.
While it’s easier today than it’s ever been to make long-distance friendships, it’s a simple fact that you need friends nearby if you want to do things like go to the movies, get invited to parties, or attend school dances with a date or a group.
If your school district or neighborhood is not very diverse, then your teen won’t have as many opportunities to encounter diversity and improve their tolerance.
You can help by giving your teen the opportunity to participate in extracurricular activities, community activities, and work or volunteer activities that will bring them into contact with a variety of different kinds of people. Not only will they encounter more diversity, but they will also form new friendships, and even join new friend groups.
This can lessen the importance of any one specific friend group, which means that your teen may feel less pressure to conform to a group that’s engaging in harmful behaviors like exclusion and bullying.
If your teen has other friend groups they can count on, they will feel more confident standing up to a group that’s behaving badly.
Teaching Tolerance Involves Media Monitoring
As a general rule, parents often spend less time overseeing their children’s choice of movies, television shows, music, books, and internet histories as their children age.
And in many ways, that’s OK – as children mature and enter into their teen years, they’re better able to process and understand complex concepts and even controversial or upsetting topics, and they need fewer restrictions.
But it’s important not to check out completely. Teens still need some oversight.
Today’s teens have all the information in the world available to them with a click of the mouse or a tap on the screen, but not all of that information is good information.
For example, there are many stories that describe how young people end up falling down a rabbit hole of videos and content promoting racist, misogynist, anti-Semitic, or otherwise extreme worldviews.
This can happen on gaming platforms, and YouTube’s algorithms are also responsible for suggesting this type of content to teens who may not have been looking for it in the first place. Teenagers often don’t have the life experience or sophistication to discern extremist propaganda from legitimate information and can be swayed onto a path of intolerance.
Hate groups have learned how to harness gaming platforms and social media outlets to target and recruit vulnerable teens.
It’s up to parents to be vigilant about the kind of media their teens are consuming.
Keep Talking to Your Teen
Communication is important. Whether or not you realize it, and whether or not they realize it, your teen does listen to you. They still take cues from you.
If you never talk to them about diversity and tolerance, their assumption is going to be that it’s not an important subject to you. And if it’s not important to you, they may not see any reason why it should be important to them either.
Teaching tolerance is a larger discussion than just one conversation.
Look for teachable moments – something that happened in a movie that you watch together or something reported on the news that day, for example – and use those as a jumping-off point for conversation as often as they arise.
Ask your teen for their thoughts on the issue and share your own. Your opinions, personal stories, and values all have an impact on your teen, so take the time to share them.
In many places, schools and teachers also make an effort toward teaching tolerance. But it’s one of those subjects that just can’t be left solely to schools to handle – parents have to do their part as well.
Parents are their children’s first teachers and remain their most important teachers, even in their teen years.