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How to Open Your Preteen's Mind

Brought to you by the American School Counselor Association

For preteens who are struggling to "fit in," diversity and tolerance can seem like foreign concepts. Kids this age often obsess about having the right hairstyle and clothes and using the same lingo as their friends.

Teaching a middle schooler to respect others with regard to more serious issues of bias and discrimination presents a particular challenge for parents. Here are some helpful tips.

Watch what you say.
We can't expect our children to be tolerant if we don't model respect for others. Examine your own language for times when you use statements that stereotype a group or individual.

Speak out against jokes and slurs that target groups of people.
Keeping silent, walking away, or not laughing doesn't show your children -- or those making the jokes -- that you won't tolerate bigoted remarks.

Provide opportunities for your kids to have friends from diverse cultures.
Encourage after-school play with children from diverse cultures. The holidays also provide a perfect time for you to invite friends and co-workers from different backgrounds to experience the joy of your family traditions and customs.

Discuss the impact of prejudicial attitudes and behavior.
Consider adding the topic to a family meeting. Provide as much accurate information as you can to dispel the harmful myths and stereotypes that middle schoolers often perpetuate when talking with their peers.

Plan weekend trips that will expose your family to different cultures and customs.
Visit museums, libraries, street fairs, and cultural events that showcase art, dance, music, and foods of diverse cultures. Explore diverse neighborhoods in and around your community. Seek out historical landmarks and exhibits in your area that chronicle human and civil-rights struggles.

Read books written by diverse authors on diverse subjects.
Read and encourage your children to read books that promote understanding of different cultures. Identify your own personal heroes in history and fiction, then challenge your kids to choose their own positive role models.

Share your family's immigration story.
Involve your children in your family's history. Trace your ancestry and pass down any stories about your relatives' immigration experience. If your family was involved in the struggle for civil and human rights, be sure that your children take pride in that heritage.

Make sure that your child's school incorporates diversity programs.
School systems should be actively involved in diversity training and teaching tolerance. Mediation and conflict resolution programs should be a part of your child's school. Diversity clubs, diversity ambassadors, multicultural assemblies, and cultural programs are all ways that schools are integrating the teaching of tolerance.

Stay involved in your child's life.
Know how your kids spend their time when they're alone, and learn who their friends are. This is a time when peers have enormous influence, but your kids still need to hear what you have to say, even though it seems that they're not listening.

Your role modeling is important: Take the time to correct your child's misperceptions by emphasizing the facts. And finally, if you reassure your kids that they can safely be themselves in any situation, they will be more likely to respect differences in others.

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