As a culture we're finally starting to recognize and talk honestly about privilege. We're finally speaking out about socio-economic disadvantages based on race, gender, ability, sexuality or identity, and how those of us who have privilege need to be ethical and aware of the challenges we face as a nation. So, it's absolutely vital that we encourage the future generation to think about these issues critically. Thankfully, there are ways you can explain privilege to your kids in age appropriate ways that encourage empathy and self-worth.
Our children are growing up in a rich and textured environment, which means they're exposed to a more diverse media. They've seen a Black president, they may see a female president, and they might have been exposed to celebrities and personalities that represent different groups — like the LGBTQ and transgender communities — that (probably) the majority of us were not aware of or exposed to when we were children. While our society is continuing to evolve and change in a way that better reflects all of us, change and evolution can sometimes (read: usually always) happen slowly. As parents, it's our job to help describe and explain privilege to our kids so they recognize the ways in which they benefit from certain social norms, and the ways in which they are disadvantaged. This knowledge will equip them to continue the conversation as they grow, to speak out when they see injustice and fight to change the status quo.
Some people are reluctant to consider themselves privileged, as though it somehow negates their hard work and effort if they admit that someone else is denied the same opportunities for spurious reasons. However, only when we — as individuals and as social groups — truthfully recognize the problems we have in our society and the way some of us benefit from them, that we can hope our children might one day see a world where we all have access to the same opportunities and are respected equally. So, with that in mind, here are just a few ways you can explain privilege to your child and help make the world a better, more inclusive and fair place.
By Being Honest About Your Own Struggle (Or Lack Of)
I am a white European, so at first glance it seems like I have benefit (and have beneffited) from a whole lot of privilege, and I have.
However, there are also parts of my identity that have made people doubt my abilities, sweep me aside and consider me unworthy. I am a woman and have spent my entire life, probably like you, being underpaid and under promoted. I am also an immigrant and have had to prove my language skills, my education and face discrimination simply because I am not a native of the country I choose to live in. My husband is disabled and faces constant discrimination in the form of terribly inappropriate and nosy questions posed by total strangers and a general under estimation of his abilities by every recruiter he has ever sat across from.
So, my partner and I think it's extremely important to teach our son all the ways in which we are privileged, and the ways we are disadvantaged, so he can be better equipped to spot injustice and inequality for himself (and then hopefully try and do something positive about it).
By Making Debate Healthy
If we hope, as a society, to move forward to a more progressive and accepting future, we have to be able to talk about our opposing points of view and experiences while still being respectful and non-combative.
Instilling healthy debate skills in your children ensures they can stand their ground without hurting other people, listen and learn from different perspectives and, in the end, will help them with possible conflict resolution skills in future relationships.
By Encouraging Them To Be Empahtic
Being able to understand others who have walked a different path than you relies mainly on the ability to be empathetic. Which, of course, is an invaluable skill to embrace in your child and helps them to develop emotional intelligence. Encourage your kid to think about other people's feelings, motivations and fears in real life and tangible ways. When you are reading together, watching TV, movies or playing games, you can pose hypothetical-but-very-relatable questions (about certain plots or characters) that build a connection between real life struggles and what your child can, at the time, understand.
By Teaching Them To View Media Critically
The media has come a long way in attempting to represent our diverse culture, but there is still work to be done and many stereotypes and presumptions, sadly, prevail.
The fashion industry in particular has an unbelievably slim (pun intended) view of beauty. If you are a woman of color, a plus size woman, a transgender woman, or a gender non-conforming person, you may feel terribly marginalized and not included in the main stream view of what it means to be "beautiful."
Encourage your kids to think critically about the messages they are receiving in advertising and via mainstream media. Ask questions like, "Does that represent the women you know?" or, "How does this ad make you feel?" and, "Who does this message exclude?" to remind your child that what is marketed to them is not indicitive of the real world (or a standard they have to live up to).
By Encouraging Research, Not Generalization
Ask your child, "How do you know?" when they present an opinion as a fact, and encourage them to research assumptions made by others (and even ones you hold, yourself.)
Encouraging children to look for proof (and, yes, question adults) instead of simply accepting statements at face value, helps our kids to avoid partaking in damaging gossip and verbal bullying. It also better equips our children to question the "status quo," including socially accepted forms of racism, sexism, and xenophobia, so they can form opinions for themselves that are more inclusive.
By Giving Back To Their Community
It's so important for us to encourage our children to be generous and give back to our local communities. Wen we ask them to consider the ways we are privileged — having a home, hot meals and a loving family, even the ability to give back — we remind our children that while things can seem like a "given," the fact that they seem that way is, in fact, privilege. It's so important to show children that others may be less fortunate, and to exercise compassion and kindness.
Practice what you preach by donating your time or money to local charities and encourage your kids to think about how they can give back by practicing random acts of kindness of their own.
By Providing Them With Diverse Toys And Books
Children need diverse toys, books, movies, music and food to teach them that the world is not homogeneous and that variety and difference is beautiful. Diverse literature in the classroom is particularly important, so that all students feel represented and valued (although it's important to choose titles that don't resort to tokenism and, instead, have strong story lines and positive characters).
By Being Honest About Complex Topics Like Race And Gender
As parents it's pretty natural to want to protect our children from all the pain and injustice of the world, but when it comes to teaching them about privilege, we have to be honest about the ways in which our society favors certain people while blatantly discriminating against others.
When you see issues of privilege, discuss them with your children. What did they think about the #OscarsSoWhite campaign? Why do they feel Black Lives Matter is such an important movement? Why do they think we haven't had a female president yet? How do they benefit from racial injustices? How are they hurt by them?
It's only by having these important conversations that we can hope to raise a generation of children who recognize when they benefit from privilege and when they face discrimination. When you have these discussion and point out these important social issues, our children will have the tools to understand and accept people from different backgrounds and perspectives. That, dear reader, is called progress.