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Cross Cultural Differences and Respecting Others

What is culture?

cross cultural differencesCulture is the values, beliefs, attitudes, customs and behaviours of a particular social, ethnic or age group. Culture distinguishes one group of people from another and is passed on through language, material objects, rituals, institutions and art.[1]

Nowadays, we live in a multicultural world where many cultures, races, ethnicities and religious communities live together. The differences and diversity that come from multiculturalism enriches Australian culture and brings new ideas and energy. Although there is openness and acceptance towards diversity and multiculturalism, unfortunately racism and discrimination continues to exist.

This hot topic aims to help parents and carers understand how racism and discrimination can affect children and young people, and provide tips on assisting children and young people to effectively manage diversity and cross cultural issues.

Racism and discrimination against children and young people

Unfortunately, racism is an everyday reality for many children and young people in our community.[3] People can be racially discriminated against simply because they are different,[2] for example, because :

  • of the colour of their skin
  • they speak a different language or with an accent
  • they come from a different country or culture[2][3]

The most common acts of racial discrimination among children and young people are:

  • racial vilification - i.e. being called insulting names[2][3]
  • other verbal and emotional abuse[3]
  • bullying and harassment[3]
  • physical abuse and violence[3]

How does discrimination affect children and young people?

Discrimination can occur:

  • between members of majority and minority groups
  • between minority groups
  • between majority groups

Racism can take place anywhere that children lead their lives. For example:

  • in schools
  • in communities
  • among peers
  • with adults and authority figures

How does racism and discrimination affect young people?

Racism and discrimination can affect children's health and development,[2] as well as their behavioural and mental health.[6] Racism can have a significant impact on young people's self-esteem and self-confidence. It can also affect their sense of connection and belonging to the broader community.[4] Racism threatens personal and cultural identity and is associated with psychological distress, anxiety, depression, low self-esteem and anger,[5] and in some extreme cases, attempted suicide.[3] Furthermore, racism can impact on education, employment and housing.[4]

How can we deal with cultural, racial, ethical and religious intolerance?

In order to promote anti-racism and diversity it is important to support young people so that they feel welcomed and their cultural background is valued. One way to overcome racism and discrimination is to encourage and support multiculturalism and diversity by promoting:

  • sensitivity
  • empathy
  • understanding
  • respect
  • acceptance
  • tolerance
  • equality
  • fairness
  • sense of belonging
  • openness
  • a welcoming environment/community

Suggestions for parents/carers

Parents can teach their children to appreciate diversity and treat it with respect. Below are some ways in which parents/carers can assist children and young people to do this.

  • Talk about stereotypes

    Children are aware of racial differences by the time they are preschoolers. As they get older, children develop an image of most racial or ethnic groups surrounding them. You can help your child avoid stereotyping by actively challenging them if they arise. In a non-threatening way, try to find the roots of your children's generalisations and let them know that while you understand why they might believe a stereotype, it is in fact, not true. Help your child understand the concept of ‘stereotyping’ and how to identify it - whether it's based on race, ethnicity, religion, age, gender, etc. Talk with them about how stereotyping can lead to prejudice and discrimination[6]

  • Be a role model for children and young people

    Children learn their attitudes from the adults around them. We all have ways of thinking and acting that may seem natural to us but aren't necessarily what we want to pass on to our children. In fact, if we don't examine these attitudes carefully, they can be harmful to our children's understanding of the world [6]. As a parent, it is important to understand your own learned prejudices about people. It is also important to make sure that you show your children the most positive ways to interact with the world in which they live.[7] Think about the stereotypes you have about people whose race and/or ethnicity differs from your own and explore your biases. Talk with your children openly and positively about race, religion, ethnicity and cultural similarities and differences[6] and work actively to help your children develop healthy racial attitudes[7]

    Model healthy attitudes by:
    • respecting and learning from others
    • valuing differences
    • bridging cultural gaps
    • rejecting unfair stereotypes
    • finding common ground
    • creating new bonds

  • Provide your child opportunities for multicultural experiences

    Meaningful cross-cultural interactions are the most effective way to reduce prejudice and encourage respect for and understanding of human differences. Different cultures can be explored through art, music, literature, festivals and community celebrations.[6] Children can also develop an appreciation for diverse cultures through multicultural toys and storybooks, television programs and movies[7]

  • Encourage diverse friendships

    Encourage your children to explore friendships with children from different ethnicities, religions, and cultures. Their lives will also be enriched by your own diverse friendships.[6] Look for opportunities to expand your circle of friends to include people of different backgrounds. There's a good probability that many of these friends will have children too[8]

  • Emphasise similarities

    Encourage your child to search for what they have in common with others instead of how they are different. If your child identifies how she/he is different from someone, you might say: "There are lots of ways you are different from other people. Now let's try to think of ways you are the same." Help your child see how similarities outweigh differences[10]

And finally...

It is important to help your child feel accepted, respected, and valued, as kids who feel badly about themselves sometimes treat others badly, and are sometimes a target for bullying. Children with strong self-esteem value and respect themselves and are therefore more likely to treat others with respect and be respected. Try to recognise and respect differences within your own family by expressing and demonstrating acceptance of your children's differing abilities, interests, and styles and valuing and respecting the uniqueness of each member of your family.[9]

Who can I contact for more information?

You may wish to contact your local parenting help service/s for further information.

Other useful resources


  1. Definitions of "Culture" Retrieved 27 June 2010.
  2. Pachter, L.M., Bernstein, B.A., Szalacha, L.A., & Garcia Coll, C. (2010). Perceived racism and discrimination in children and youths: an exploratory study. Health and Social Work, 35 (1), 61-69.
  3. Scourfield, J., Evans, J., Shah, W., & Beynon, H. (2002). Responding to the experiences of minority ethnic children in virtually all-white communities. Child and Family Social Work, 7 (3), 161-175.
  4. Francis, S., & Cornfoot, S. (2007). Multicultural Youth in Australia: Settlement and Transition. Canberra: The Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth.
  5. Selvamanickam, S., Zgryza, M., & Gorman, D. (2001). Coping in a new world: The social and emotional wellbeing of young people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. Brisbane: Queensland Transcultural Mental Health Centre, Queensland Health and Youth Affairs Network of Queensland Inc.
  6. How to Talk To Children About Stereotypes. Retrieved 27 June 2010.
  7. Raising Children Free of Prejudice. Retrieved 27 June 2010.
  8. Exposing Kids to Diversity. Retrieved 27 June 2010.
  9. Teaching your child tolerance. Retrieved 27 June 2010.
  10. 7 Secrets to Nurturing Tolerance in Our Kids. Retrieved 27 June 2010.

Published: 1 July 2010