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Activities to Teach Teens About Stereotyping and Labeling of Others

by Kathryn Rateliff Barr

Your teen likely can list ways people are stereotyped by their clothes, hair style, grades, activities and friends. Activities you do with your teen might increase her tolerance by encouraging her to look a little deeper before making a judgment about a person’s character or abilities.

Appearance

It is easy to judge a person by appearance and be wrong. Present your teen with pictures of a clothed body without a face or cues to reveal race. Then ask your teen to tell you the class, occupation, race, age and gender orientation of the pictured individual. After your teen writes his description of the individual, reveal the full picture with biographical information. Help your teen see how easy it is to misjudge someone by appearance. Ask your teen to talk about how he perceives people based on size, their car or where a person might go, such as a church, school or business. Ask, “Where did your perceptions come from?” or “If this person was you, how do you think others would treat you? Would it change who you are?”

Labels

By the time your child becomes a teen, others might have attached labels to her, such as "pretty," "funny," "intelligent," "lazy" or "troublemaker." Have your teen role-play how she might treat someone who wears a label. Ask, “Can you convince others the label is wrong?” or “In what ways do you think the label limits this person?” Look at people such as Albert Einstein, Abraham Lincoln or Gen. George Patton with your teen and discuss what each person overcame and how some of the labels such as stupid, failure or disabled helped or motivated the individual.

The Crowd

Have your teen read Thomas Jefferson’s letter to his grandson and consider his words about reputation. Ask him, “What words would you use to describe a person who hangs out with bikers, successful people, alcoholics, school nerds, jocks and members of the chess club?” Each person in the group is judged by the whole. A person who has been in jail or hangs around in bars could be judged by the circumstances or people in his circle. Ask, “How would someone who looks at your friends judge you?” or “Are there activities you participate in that cause people to see you in a certain light?” Have your teen consider if he needs to make changes in his activities or friends.

Racial Profiling

Many Americans have been negatively judged according to their race and nationality, including the Japanese during World War II and Arab-Americans after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Discuss racial profiling and how it affects jobs, income, police reaction when a person is stopped or the terms used to refer to an individual from a specific racial background. Have your teen look for news stories about racial profiling and write about it affects the person profiled and those who come in contact with that person. Ask your teen, “Have people learned anything positive about profiling?” Have her search for stories in which individuals work together to understand people of other cultures and races.

About the Author

Rev. Kathryn Rateliff Barr has taught birth, parenting, vaccinations and alternative medicine classes since 1994. She is a pastoral family counselor and has parented birth, step, adopted and foster children. She holds bachelor's degrees in English and history from Centenary College of Louisiana. Studies include midwifery, naturopathy and other alternative therapies.

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