My daughter was in second grade when her class had begun a discussion on civil rights and slavery in North America. It was then that she had learned for the first time that there were people in this world who may think her less deserving, less valuable, and even less human—simply because of her sweet golden-brown skin. I vividly remember her face that day and seeing how the mere thought of this was a like a knife in the gut to a once happily oblivious little girl.
In hindsight, I can honestly now say that the same reason we kept it from her is the same exact reason I regret that we withheld it. We feared that she would confuse inequality with inferiority.
My husband and I spent the first years of her young life affirming her in every possible positive way. We constantly reminded her of her identity in Christ, telling her how beautifully she was crafted inside and out. We never once tried to explain to her that there were people who might not see her the same way, nor did we want to. However, the moment someone else oversaw this lesson, I immediately regretted missing the opportunity to do so myself.
As parents, we usually try to prevent the imagery and ideas of mistaken inferiority from taking root in our little ones. Most of us know its fruit all too well and how it can often sprout into low self-esteem, low self-confidence, as well as feelings of discouragement and defeat—all of which can lead to a myriad of deviant behaviors in our teens and young adults. For these reasons, among many others, giving our children the clarity to see the difference between false inferiority and real inequality is not only invaluable—but necessary.
It is a difficult and delicate task, but with some small moments of intentional parenting, it can be accomplished.
- Introducing inequality as the first idea gives our youngest ones a chance to digest the ideas of ‘unfairness’ at a rate they can grasp and often relate to in their own experience with siblings or classmates. You can also explore these ideas by sharing the biblical stories of David and Joseph and how they were overlooked or mistreated by siblings. Walk through the ideas of having people unfairly underestimate us while still capturing the significance of our inherent value in Christ.
- Share the history of inequality across the globe so that your school-aged child understands how prejudice and inequality aren’t exclusive to any particular group or ethnicity. As Christians, we frequently aim straight for Egyptian slavery of the Old Testament. However, our world history is rife with social inequalities from the European Manor System of the Middle Ages to the present-day Caste system still present in much of India.
- For older grade school children such as my own, we revisit the ideas of modern-day slavery and how some cultures have even put their youngest out to work in factories and sweatshops. The reality of worldwide inequality can be introduced in a way that inspires compassion and social responsibility instead of self-doubt, deflated self-esteem, or a false sense of superiority.
- When introducing present-day homegrown inequality, consider discussing the innumerable minority groups that suffer cruelty and injustice daily. Xenophobia has a very real impact on our Latino and Middle Eastern friends in this country with the recent rise of extremist nationalism. Explaining this to your child in an age appropriate manner will take the edge off the idea that they too can and will be unfairly evaluated.
More importantly, never lose sight of the bigger lessons. Our kids need to know that being disciplined, loyal, honest, patient, kind, hard-working, and dependable will make them valuable in the most authentic ways. The people who don’t want to do the hard work to develop these traits would rather use the broken measuring sticks of socio-economic status or skin tones to falsely inflate their own value.
Finally, we must never be afraid to call things like racism and bigotry what they are–sin. Arm your children with the truth so they are equipped to stand against the lies. Make it your business to be your youngster’s first teacher in this lesson: “There will always be people who will value you less, but it will never make you less valuable.”