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“I Like My Skin, But I Like Yours Too” – Cultural Competency for Tweens

by Lori Sciame | March 2nd, 2011 | Tweens

“Birds of a feather flock together.” Most of the time, this cliché stands true. People who are alike tend to congregate – in the classroom, in the community, and even in the office. But this habit can have a negative effect. Although children may be comfortable socializing and going to school with those like themselves, never interacting with kids of different racial, ethnic, or cultural backgrounds can lead to shyness or even fear.

How do you raise a child who is both comfortable in his or her own skin, and comfortable with people of different backgrounds? It takes a little effort, but it’s fun! Listed below are several ways to introduce your child to the cultural diversity that abounds in communities across the nation.

1. Attend Festivals that Celebrate Culture

Milwaukee, Wisconsin celebrates different cultures throughout the summer with a series of festivals held on the shores of Lake Michigan. Families can experience German Fest, Italian Fest, and Irish Fest. Many other large metropolitan areas do the same. On a smaller scale, however, communities across the country host festivals honoring their particular heritage. These festivals will also allow your child to experience the enticing food, unique music, and colorful dress – and fun – of those unlike themselves in a safe environment.

2. Make a Point to Try Ethnic Restaurants

Most tweens love Mexican or Chinese food, but what about Indian, Thai, or Vietnamese delicacies? America is blessed with dozens of cuisines to sample. By encouraging your child to experiment with different foods, including unfamiliar spices, vegetables, and meats, you’re broadening their minds, and teaching them that although what others eat may look and taste different – it is all good!

3. Take Advantage of Your Local College or University

Colleges and universities offer diversity events and presentations. In the small town where I live, I have taken my children to see live performances featuring dancers from Spain, musicians from Japan, and even an African storyteller. These events work to expand a child’s worldview, as well as build their appreciation for the arts.

4. Volunteer as a Family to Address a Community Concern

When a community comes together to address a local problem, anything from hunger to building a new youth center, solidarity across cultural and religious lines results. That’s a formal way of expressing a truth – we are all in this together. A great example is that my entire family is working on a project to reduce underage drinking and drug use in our community. My three children and my husband have worked for months – side by side – with adults and children who are “different” from us. Our coalition of community members has become a new family of sorts…all accepting of each other in our quest for better neighborhoods and opportunities for youth.

While writing this article, I realized one of the best memories I have happened when my children and I visited the Hindu Temple of Greater Chicago. We toured the grounds and basically stood in awe of another culture’s religious expression. At one point, as my kids shared delicious delicacies with children of another race and religion, they all smiled and laughed together. In essence, they were completely “at home.” At that moment I knew I had succeeded. My children had found a balance between being comfortable with themselves, while at the same time being comfortable with diversity.

As you can see, becoming culturally diverse as a tween has immense benefits. It is fun to learn about different ethnicities and cultures, and doing so enriches a child’s life in many ways. Familiarity is great – it’s comfortable and reassuring – yet opening a tween’s eyes to the wonder in others far outweighs the benefits of “flocking.”

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