Children and Stereotypes: Part 2
Human beings have stereotypes about all groups of people. This includes stereotypes about men and women, the young and old, various sexualities and genders, religions, skin color, and many others. Are you already thinking that you don’t have these? Well, you’re wrong! We all have them, because making unconscious assumptions is a central method for our every day thinking and decision making. Another way of understanding stereotypes is thinking of them as assumptions, biases or preconceived notions that we have. Are our assumptions set in stone? No. Are we able to affect the assumptions or stereotypes that our children have and create? Yes.
One way to understand stereotypes is by splitting them into two types: the explicit and implicit biases. An explicit bias is something that we are aware of, such as “young people are more likely to commit a crime than older people”. An implicit bias is something that we are unaware of, such as an assumption that “someone with darker skin is more dangerous than someone with lighter skin”. The tricky part about implicit biases is that we may genuinely think that we believe otherwise. People may honestly say that they have no preconceived notions about people with brown skin, yet, may have an implicit belief that people with brown skin are more dangerous than people with lighter skin.
To make matters worse, we also have something called a “confirmation bias”. This means that we tend to seek out and pay attention to information that only confirms what we already believe. The example I always think about is a man believing that women cannot drive as well as men. Regardless of how this particular man gathered the belief that women cannot drive as well as men, he goes on throughout his life, driving around hundreds of women per day. Maybe that day two men cut him off while also witnessing hundreds of women driving well. However, that man sees one woman drive dangerously and thinks “see, women can’t drive!” He ignored all other examples and paid attention to the one that confirmed his bias. We do this with all of our stereotypes.
How can we use this information to help our children avoid making negative or untrue assumptions about others? Two ways: first is to be aware of our own assumptions and second is draw attention to theirs. This may be easier said than done because it requires a process, but it is worth it. It is important to reflect on what we believe about ourselves and others, and where we learned these beliefs. It is also helpful to reflect our beliefs with our children. Talk to them about assumptions you may have previously made and how your beliefs evolved over time. Talk about how making assumptions about people can be incorrect and hurtful, and provide examples. Be mindful of what your children are exposed to on television, as untrue stereotypes are unfortunately perpetuated through reality shows. Our stereotypes are only as strong as our beliefs. So, as we change our beliefs we change the stereotypes we have. Especially if the stereotype is related to the identity of the child, such as a young girl’s beliefs about women, discussing assumptions will assist with healthy growth and development. Having open discussions with our children about assumptions will help them to be comfortable with examining themselves and questioning their beliefs. We have the power to raise children who are unbiased toward others; it only requires management of our own biases and direction in guiding children to identifying their own.
Asian woman driving car image available from Shutterstock.
, . (2013). Children and Stereotypes: Part 2. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 26, 2015, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/resilient-youth/2013/07/children-and-stereotypes-part-2/