As we stare our current political climate in the face, and either see or experience social and racial injustices daily, it’s obvious and undeniably important to teach our children about their own privilege. They need to understand how unearned advantage and disadvantage work, in order to meaningfully and ethically connect with other people in our diverse society, particularly in situations with people over whom they may have unearned social power. We can’t teach what we don’t understand or model on a regular basis, which is why acknowledging your privilege helps you to be a better parent and teach these vital lessons.
Almost all of us who are reading this (and me, as I write it) have some form(s) of privilege (unearned social, economic, and political advantages we enjoy simply because we belong to a favored social group) that affects how we live. For example, while my Blackness and femaleness put me at a disadvantage relative to white people and men, I am cisgender and heterosexual, so I do not face the additional barriers my LGBT counterparts face. I have the educational and class privilege that comes with having graduated from an elite college. I am an adult in a world that often disregards the rights of children. I am thin and able-bodied in a world designed for people who look like me. I live in the Global North, and am a natural-born citizen of the United States, which though complicated by my being Black and female, still gives me considerable geopolitical advantages over people living in much of the rest of the world. I take all of these things into account when I make relevant decisions, such as choosing which political candidates to vote for or what businesses to support with our family’s money. Whenever possible, I talk about those considerations out loud so our kids learn that considering the impact of our actions on other people is just another part of making wise decisions.
As technology facilitates greater connection among people, and as people use social media and other means to raise our collective awareness of the terrible things that happen to us and/or our fellow people around the country and the world, it can feel scary and overwhelming, and even more so if we have no bigger-picture understanding of what’s going on or why it’s happening. Understanding how systemic oppression works gives us the framework we need to make sense of the strife we see and experience every day, as well as a way to approach ending that strife. That, in turn, helps us assist our children in making sense of things that could otherwise make them feel scared and helpless, replacing that helplessness with a sense of agency; a sense that you and they can take part in making the world a safer, freer, more just place. There are plenty of other ways acknowledging our privilege can help us be better parents, including:
It Helps You Model How To Live Ethically In A Diverse Society
Whether we acknowledge it or not, our actions either reinforce systemic oppression or help dismantle it. Those of us who make an effort to understand our privileges, and to align our actions with that understanding, are actively taking steps to undo oppression. In doing so, we model that for our kids, who then grow up to be better people for it.
It Makes You More Mindful Of Your Impact On Others
The process of learning about, understanding and acknowledging our privilege helps us become more acutely aware of how our actions impact other people, regardless of our intentions. That is an important distinction that all people need to learn, and our kids have an advantage in learning it because they see us do that every day.
It Helps You Reconsider Your Impact On Your Kids
In addition to becoming more aware of our impact on other people more generally, acknowledging our privilege helps us to be more mindful of our intentions versus our impact on our own children, compared to whom we have considerable privilege by virtue of our adulthood and our power in our households. Unpacking adult privilege in our parenting not only makes us better parents to our children, but helps us raise more socially just and empowered kids.
It Helps You Diversify The Media You Present To Kids
Acknowledging our privilege helps us see all the many ways our society reproduces the messages we’re working to unlearn, including and especially via the mass media. With that awareness, we can make better choices around books, audio, TV, film, and more, which can help them get a more accurate and more interesting picture of the world they live in.
You're Modeling Better Social Skills
In a diverse society, understanding how privilege and oppression work is simply another part of understanding how to behave respectfully around other people. Modeling that for kids helps them learn how to empathize with people who are different from themselves, and to prioritize their impact on others over their intentions toward others. This makes them more socially competent, and raises their likelihood of success in all areas of life.
It Helps You Model Non-Oppressive Relationship Skills
Growing up around lots of different people is important (and increasingly inevitable). However, there’s a difference between having passing acquaintances who are different from you and your family, and having genuine friendships with them, something that is all but impossible if you haven't considered issues like privilege. What’s more, our kids learn how to treat other people from watching how we interact with our friends who are different from ourselves. If we acknowledge our privilege and are actively striving to be accomplices against oppression, we can feel reasonably confident that they’re learning positive lessons from us instead of negative ones.
You're Breaking The Cycle Of Privileged Fragility
Instead of raising another generation of kids who can barely function in any discussion about social inequality, parents who acknowledge their privilege model that it is possible to recognize one’s own unearned advantages without becoming engulfed in shame and failing to listen or empathize with people whose experiences differ from their own. That makes it possible for them to have positive, mutually fulfilling relationships with people who are different from themselves, and allows them to actually work to end social injustice instead of reinforcing it.
You're Sparing Them The Need To Unlearn Myths Later
Given how closely connected and diverse the world is, it is inevitable that our kids will encounter (or worse, perpetuate) social injustice and be confronted about their privilege. Having parents who regularly acknowledge and discuss these issues gives them a head start relative to kids whose parents foster ignorance around them.
You're Preparing Them For Life Beyond Your Home
As much as we might wish we could shield our kids from any knowledge that might make us or them uncomfortable, that’s simply not possible. At some point, like all good mammals, they will leave us and go off on their own, and it is our job as parents to make sure they’re as prepared for that as possible. That includes knowing how to live with people who aren’t just like them, without being an oppressive jerk. Having parents who acknowledge their privilege gives them a living example of what it looks like to be an ethical member of a society that is still working towards liberty and justice for all.