What is ‘culture’?
Culture is often thought of from the perspective of language, race, and ethnicity and how it is expressed through art, music, food and literature. A cultural group however, can also comprise people who share a theme or an issue, such as gender, spirituality, sexual preference, age, physical issues, or social and economic status.
This hot topic aims to explain how cross cultural issues, including discrimination and racism, impact on the health and wellbeing of young people, what form this issue takes, and how to identify impacts on your child. It ends with ideas on how you can support your child and offers some resources you can access for more information.
What is ‘discrimination’?
Racism is a belief that a particular race or ethnicity is superior or inferior to others. Racial discrimination is any act where a person is treated less favourably because of their colour, race, descent, nationality or ethnic origin resulting in individuals being offended, insulted, humiliated or intimidated. Any group that is considered a “minority” group in Australian society may be the victim of disrespectful, negative stereotyping which may lead to hurtful and discriminatory outcomes for the individuals involved.
Australia is a diverse country which is officially multicultural providing laws to protect its citizens from discrimination.
Despite legislation racism and discrimination do exist.
Why is it important to be accepting of other cultures?
Young people from cultural minority groups experience a unique challenge as they seek to resolve understandings about their identity whilst coming to terms with the fact that some aspect of their lives is not accepted by society. Identity confusion can lead to extreme anxiety in young adolescents and if a young person has little to no connection with their cultural context they can experience an increasing sense of alienation.
What is the impact of discrimination on children and young people?
There is a proven, strong link between racism and poor health and wellbeing, including on children’s development  and their behavioural and mental health. These negative effects are experienced by young people of any minority group which is experiencing sustained discrimination, for example those who identify as intersex or gender diverse. Possible effects can include:
- Ongoing feelings of sadness, depression, lack of trust, anger, isolation and feelings of exclusion and not belonging; and in some cases attempted suicide
- Physical side effects (including sweaty palms, increased heart rate, feeling shaky and trembling, tense muscles, headaches)
- Anxiety and constant fear of being attacked verbally or physically
- Reduced ability to concentrate on school work or homework due to the stress of current discriminatory incidences in their daily lives
- Post-traumatic stress and flashbacks to trauma
- Wanting to physically attack the perpetrator
- Long term impact on school work (including avoidance of school) resulting in reduced educational outcomes
- Significant impacts on self-worth, self-esteem, self-confidence and identity development
- As teenagers, negative experiences of employment and housing
Let your kids know you care and remain approachable.
What does discrimination look like?
People may be treated disrespectfully because of their:
- skin colour
- different language or accent
- religious practices
- country of origin
- identification with a minority group (e.g. Trans and gender diverse)
The most commonly experienced forms of discrimination among children and young people (most of which occur at school) include:
- Racial remarks or being called by insulting names
- Discrimination at school by peers or adults (including school staff). For example, being treated badly or unfairly by a teacher because of race, ethnicity, colour of skin, language, accent or gender
- As teenagers discrimination at shops and restaurants e.g., being harassed by security guards or shop assistants
- Verbal and emotional abuse
- Bullying and harassment – including cyber bullying
- Physical abuse and violence
What can I do to encourage my child to develop cultural acceptance?
Encouraging and supporting tolerance and acceptance of diversity is the key to overcoming discrimination, including racism. Here is a list of things you can do to assist your child develop tolerance and respectful acceptance of others:
Talk with your children about stereotypes
By actively challenging stereotyping you can help your children rise above the discriminatory lessons they may inadvertently learn from friends, television, and even textbooks.
Be a role model for children and young people
Think about the stereotypes you have about people whose culture differs from yours and explore your own biases. Talk with your children openly and positively about race, religion, ethnicity, cultural similarities and differences and work actively to help your children develop healthy non-discriminatory attitudes
Teach your children tolerance and respect
Parents who demonstrate and model tolerance and respect in their everyday lives send a powerful message to their children and help them to learn and live by the values you want them to have
Expose your children to diversity and multicultural experiences
Expose your children to different multicultural communities and minorities using art, music, literature, museums, libraries, festivals and celebrations. Also, make sure that your children have multicultural toys and storybooks, and that the television programs and movies they watch are racially and culturally diverse. Furthermore, learn together about holidays and religious celebrations that are not part of your own tradition.
Encourage diverse friendships and emphasize similarities
Encourage your children to explore friendships with children from different ethnicities, religions, and cultures at school or in other activities. Help your child focus on the similarities rather than the differences between people.
Raise your child with pride in their own cultural identity
A family lifestyle that reflects confidence, self-respect and pride in one’s own cultural heritage will assist to build this in children. Choose books, games and toys that reflect all races and ethnicities, including your own. Demonstrate calm listening and an interest in discussing questions about racial and ethnic differences when raised. Children who have strong self-esteem and core values and who have been treated with respect are more likely to treat others with respect.
Help your child to cope with prejudice
If your child is hurt by discrimination it’s vital that you don’t react angrily but comfort them. Your child needs reassurance and an explanation about how this is disrespectful behaviour. At the same time they may need support and encouragement to be assertive. There is some evidence that stronger and more pronounced levels of resilience grow though resisting and countering discrimination and marginalisation.  If a situation however, gets out of control, you may need to intervene, and your child needs to know you will do so. However, children should be encouraged to try to handle these difficulties themselves, using coping mechanisms that won’t compromise their
Calm conversations with your kids will always be more productive.
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