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Building teens' respect for diversity: Here's what to know

Respecting diversity involves understanding and valuing the perspectives from all backgrounds.
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Respecting diversity involves understanding and valuing the perspectives, behaviors, and needs of people from all backgrounds. The ability to value, respect, and acknowledge the identities, backgrounds, and differences of others contributes to a more tolerant society. As society becomes more diverse, your adolescent will be exposed to people from different backgrounds. To help your teen navigate our changing society, teach them about the value of tolerance and diversity.

Talk about stereotypes, differences, and hurtful behavior. The world is a great tapestry of diversity made up of people with different personalities, backgrounds, beliefs, religions, genders, sexual preferences, and socioeconomic statuses. All of these groups have encountered negative stereotypes, and it’s important to talk with your teen about how these labels and assumptions affect others. You may want to point out a stereotype related to your family or background. This can also be a good time to talk about the effect that hurtful comments on social media or cruel actions have on others, especially when it comes to teenagers who are excluded or bullied because they are different. You can also use this as an opportunity to discuss how diversity enhances our world, and how being tolerant and accepting of others can help them learn more about the world. Tom Hoerr, Head of St. Louis-based New City School, says that if your teen is interested, you may want to suggest that they read The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd, a historical fiction book that deals with slavery in South Carolina in the early 1800s. Hoerr says that this book includes examples of overt and subtle kinds of racism that are present in the country today, and it can be a good way to get your teen to reflect on these issues.

Documentaries and critical films can teach your teen about tolerance. Another way to build your teen’s ability to respect differences is by watching documentaries that feature people from all walks of life. These types of films often deal with social issues, conflicts, and problems, and they can be useful tools for starting a discussion about tolerance. Films like "The Kite Runner," "Refugee Like Me," and "Poverty in America" offer social commentary about diversity and tolerance and can help teach your teen about respecting differences. You may also want to ask your teen about languages or places that they are interested in learning more about. This can be a great time to begin a discussion about studying abroad in college and the value of learning another language or immersing himself or herself in another culture.

Visit other neighborhoods in your own city or town. Education consultant Jennifer Miller recommends finding ways to experience other cultures in your area. Miller says that it can be something as simple as shopping at a Chinese, Mexican, or Indian market, or it can involve going to a performance given by a culture that is not your own. She adds that if you have the resources, you may also want to travel to diverse locations to introduce your high-schooler to different cultures.

Parent Toolkit resources were developed by NBC News Learn with the help of subject-matter experts, including Hoerr, Emeritus Head of School, New City School, and Jennifer Miller, Author, Confident Parents, Confident Kids.