Antidote Tolerance Open Mindedness Flexibility

"All boys are stupid."

Dear Dr. Borba,

My wife and I have always prided ourselves on being tolerant and open-minded. But somehow our ten year old has turned out very narrow-minded. Once he forms an opinion (and heaven knows where he gets them), he just won't listen. He thinks he's right, and there's no way we can change his thinking. The problem is that his views are often quite ignorant and biased. What can we do to help him become more open-minded?

—Leon L., a father of two from Atlanta, Georgia

Bad Attitude Act Out

"I'm only going to play with white kids, and no one else ever."

"You can't trust girls. They'll cheat on you every time."

"I'm never going into business—everyone is so unethical!"

Identify something your kid is narrow-minded and closed-viewed about—for example, gender ("Girls are dumb"), race ("Chinese are sneaky"), religion ("Muslims are all terrorists"), or age ("The elderly are all senile").Then institute a plan to give him face-to-face evidence that his view is not only unfair but also incorrect. For instance, if a young child is prejudiced against a certain ethnicity, you might find a day care that has diversity, or expose him to positive images of the group using toys, music, literature, videos, and public role models.A plan for a teen biased about physical disabilities might be for him to help out in the Special Olympics or expose him to examples in literature, film, and the real world of successful people who have lived with their disabilities: the deaf composer Ludwig van Beethoven; the disabled physicist Stephen Hawking; the author who battled depression Virginia Woolf; the deaf and blind advocate Helen Keller; the schizophrenic mathematician John Nash, subject of the best-selling biography and film A Beautiful Mind; or the one-handed pitcher Jim Abbott. Ignorance and lack of experience are two of the most common reasons that kids develop biased views. Providing your kid with an experience putting him in direct confrontation with his bias is one of the best ways to help him recognize that his attitude is not only narrow but also wrong.

"Adults are so out of touch they don't have a clue!" "You can't trust any of the news.""If I were Asian, I'd have a much better chance of getting into college: all of them do." Narrow-minded kids are tough to live with: they are set in their ways, think their views are always right, and are usually quite unreceptive to new opinions. They are dead certain that their way is not only the right way but also the only way. Trying to convince them their views are wrong can be exhausting. Kids with these attitudes see things only from their side and hear only what they want to hear, and that's usually only the views that fit their beliefs or help them get their way. And so narrow-minded kids are also self-centered.

It's as though they want to close the door to ideas that counter theirs and seem almost afraid to let new opinions in. But they are shutting out the potential for stretching their knowledge and their awareness of others' feelings and thoughts. And there's a bigger danger: it jeopardizes their growth of character as well. By keeping their minds locked to new perspectives, they are robbed of developing the very virtues that can strengthen their moral growth and activate their concern for others.

Five virtues in particular are on the endangered list of narrow-minded kids:

• Empathy—identifying with and feeling other people's concerns

• Respect—valuing others

• Kindness—concern about the welfare of others

• Fairness—choosing to be open-minded and to act in a just way

• Tolerance—respecting the dignity and rights of all persons, even those whose beliefs and behaviors differ from our own

But there's something else going on that should also be a big warning: not only are these kids narrow-minded, they can also be very bigoted.The whole matter of your child's toler ance—his ability to respect the rights of all persons, even those whose beliefs and behaviors differ from his own—is at stake. Since narrow-minded kids are willing to hear only what they want to believe and don't take the time to listen, they run the risk of forming views far too quickly.And often they are based not on facts but on broad categorical judgments.Those stereotypes can have deadly outcomes because they plant the seeds of prejudice and hate.After all, how can you possibly learn to be accepting of different beliefs, genders, abilities, cultures, and religions unless you are willing to be open to those differences? Sadly, narrow-minded kids are robbed of those opportunities because their close-minded views don't allow new beliefs to enter into their close-minded outlooks on life.

There are several factors that might contribute to children's being narrow-minded and prejudiced.They may be picking up on attitudes from you or other members of your family when they hear racist or sexist language, jokes, or casual remarks, whether they are conscious or not.They may be getting it from their peers or the media. For example, they might be part of a group that shapes their value and identity by opposing another group or type of person.They may have had a bad experience at school or in the community that you may not even know about that has left them with a profound bias or misunderstanding. They may have never been exposed to various points of view, cultures, and individuals. Or they may have deep unresolved fears and insecurities, which they're projecting on to others as scapegoats for their own problems.

To help our kids live in a more harmonious world, we must teach them to be more open-minded and tolerant.Their world is growing more diverse every day. Many communities today have large populations of what used to be known as minority groups (such as African Americans, Latinos,Asians, and Muslims) but are now in fact the majority.Whereas some kids are responding to this change with fear, prejudice, and hate, others are learning to accept and respect differences.The more open-minded and tolerant your kids are, the more open they will be to learning about other people. The more they learn, the less they will be uncomfortable or fearful in any kind of situation, with any kind of person.Although it's certainly never too late, the sooner we instill the virtues of tolerance, open-mindedness, and flexibility, the better the chance we have of preventing insidious, intolerant attitudes from taking hold.

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