Anti-racist attitudes: why it’s important to help children and teenagers develop them
Children and teenagers who have anti-racist attitudes towards Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, Asian, Black, Brown and other racially marginalised people can be part of preventing racism and making the world a fairer place.
That’s because these children and teenagers tend to:
- be respectful and inclusive of people from all backgrounds, cultures and experiences
- recognise that racially marginalised people are treated unfairly because of their culture, the colour of their skin or the language they speak – and that this is not OK
- understand that ‘race’ is a social category that’s used to treat people unfairly and isn’t based in biology
- understand that people have similarities and differences and that everyone deserves to be treated with care and respect.
All children have the right to grow up feeling respected, valued, safe and healthy. Talking with children about racism is part of creating environments that help children grow and thrive.
How to help children and teenagers develop anti-racist attitudes
You play a vital part in helping your child develop anti-racist attitudes and healthy and positive attitudes towards diversity.
You can do this by:
- helping your child embrace diversity and equality
- role-modelling anti-racist attitudes for your child
- helping your child call out racism
- looking out for signs of racism in your child’s behaviour and talking about it.
Helping children and teenagers embrace diversity and equality
Here are ideas to help children aged 0-11 years learn about and embrace diversity and equality:
- Play music, read books and tell stories from diverse cultures with your child.
- Take your child to cultural celebrations like NAIDOC Week and Harmony Week.
- Talk with your child about diversity in their school, peer group, sports club and so on. For example, ask your child what traditions their friends celebrate and use this conversation to talk about the importance of diversity in our communities.
- Watch movies and TV shows that include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, Asian, Black, Brown and other racially marginalised characters with meaningful roles and stories.
- Talk with your child about the similarities they share with friends from other cultural and ethnic backgrounds. For example, they might like the same sport or the same movies.
- Talk with your child about why diversity is important. For example, you could say that a community with a lot of people from different cultural backgrounds is a community with plenty of ideas, points of view, knowledge, foods, art and more.
- Encourage your child to stand up to racism. For example, your child could volunteer or raise money for an anti-racism organisation or approach their school about including more diverse content in the curriculum.
- Support your child to take part in anti-racism and advocacy events and activities. For example, you could go with your child to a reconciliation or Black Lives Matter event, or you could help your child write a letter to their local MP if they see racial inequality in your community.
- Encourage your child to learn more about the local and federal policies that affect racially marginalised people in Australia. For example, your child could use the ABC’s Vote Compass to see which political parties have anti-racist values.
Role-modelling anti-racist attitudes and beliefs for children and teenagers
- Get informed. For example, explore websites like Racism. It Stops With Me and share what you learn with your child.
- Treat everyone with openness, respect and fairness. For example, invite children from various cultural and ethnic backgrounds to your home, or make sure that people from various cultural and ethnic backgrounds feel welcome in any sports, clubs or other groups that you’re part of.
- Advocate for anti-racism at your child’s child care service, preschool or school. For example, talk to school staff about adding anti-racism to the discrimination policy or including anti-racism learning activities and diverse content in the curriculum.
- Acknowledge that talking about racism can feel uncomfortable and that this is OK. When your child sees you working through discomfort in healthy ways, it sets a great example and helps build your child’s resilience.
- Admit your own mistakes. For example, if you use a racial stereotype, say out loud that you shouldn’t have said that. Tell your child that it’s OK to make mistakes, but it’s also important to learn how to do better.
Calling out racism: helping children and teenagers
One of the best ways to help your child learn to call out racism is to be a role model. For example, if someone makes a racist joke, you can say clearly that it was racist and not OK.
When your child sees you call out racism, they learn that racism is not OK and that it’s good to stand up for yourself and others. They also learn how to have calm and respectful discussions, support others when they’re being treated unfairly and influence the world around them.
These resources can help you call out racism when you see it:
- Amnesty International – Six ways to call out racism and bigotry when you see it
- ANTAR – Racism, let’s end it
- Australian National University – Ending racism
- Harvard University – Calling In and Calling Out Guide (PDF: 708kb)
- Reach Out – How to support people from different cultural backgrounds
- Red Cross – Call out Racism (PDF: 138kb)
- Western Sydney University – Bystander Anti-Racism Project
Remember – it’s important to call out racism, but make sure it’s safe.
Helping your child call out racism
If it’s safe for your child, here are things they can do to call out racism:
- Focus on fairness – for example, by saying, ‘That’s not a fair thing to say’.
- Ask people to explain – for example, by saying, ‘Why do you think that?’
- Report racist behaviour and get help.
- Comfort someone who has experienced racism.
And in all situations, these tips can keep your child safe:
- Check that there are trusted adults nearby.
- If an adult is behaving in a racist way, don’t engage with them. Tell you or another trusted adult about the behaviour.
- If a person is behaving in an aggressive as well as a racist way, don’t engage with them. Tell you or another trusted adult instead.
- If a person gets angry or aggressive when your child calls out their racist behaviour, walk away from the conversation.
If your child has experienced racism, you can support them by listening to them, validating their feelings, reassuring them, and recording and reporting racist incidents.
Noticing signs of racism in children’s views or behaviour: what to do
If you notice signs of racism in your child’s views or behaviour, it’s important to talk with your child. This might be a challenging conversation.
It can help to make a distinction between how your child has behaved and who your child is or wants to be – a respectful, caring person. If your child knows that you believe they’re a good person, they’re more likely to think about their views or behaviour.
Here’s how to talk with your child about racist views or behaviour:
- Calmly start a conversation. For example, ‘It sounds like you think Black people can’t be doctors. Do you really think this is true? I wonder where you got that idea’.
- Talk with your child about how their views or behaviour might affect others. For example, ‘If you say Black people can’t be doctors, they might feel sad or upset about being left out’. For older children, you can explain effects in more detail. Websites like All Together Now can help.
- Explain more respectful views or behaviour. For example, ‘Doctors can have any background or skin colour’.
- Show your child evidence that counters the view or behaviour. For example, you and your child could research Black doctors and their contributions to medicine.
Here are ways to help your child change their views or behaviour:
- Reflect on how or where your child might have got racist messages. For example, is your child seeing only white doctors in TV shows, books and other places?
- Check what you’re modelling for your child. Do you avoid interacting with people from diverse backgrounds in the community or on public transport? Do you express negative verbal or non-verbal ideas about people from diverse backgrounds?
- Keep having regular, age-appropriate discussions with your child about racism.
If your child’s behaviour might be harming others, it’s important to address it immediately. Talk with your child as soon as possible about their behaviour, reach out to others who might be involved, and plan how to deal with the behaviour.
If you’re getting distressed when talking or thinking about racism or you’ve been experiencing racism yourself, talk to your GP or a mental health professional. You can also call 13 YARN on 139 276, Lifeline on 131 114, Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636 or a parenting hotline. Or you can contact your local Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation or a community cultural group.