Many of the Assault 3 and Harassment offenses referred to Kauai Teen Court begin with one youth calling another youth a derogatory name. Most of these assault and harassment charges are committed by boys and young men. Often, the name calling has an overt sexual and/or racial connotation. Words such as “faggot” and most racial slurs illicit strong responses and often result in the two parties coming to physical blows.
Children between the ages of 10 and 18 are developing their identity, separating from their parents and beginning to gain self-confidence in their autonomy. Along with identity comes establishing self-identity and sexual orientation.
Not everyone has the good fortune of knowing their parents or grandparents and where they originated. The importance of this to adults can be shown by the increasing number of ancestry websites that allow anyone to search for past generations of family. Learning that we have a Scottish or Kenyan great grandparent helps us to establish our place in society and enhance our connection to others.
Sexual orientation may be developed over an extended period of time and is not immediately absolute in the same way as ancestry. “Just The Facts About Sexual Orientation: A Primer for Principals, Educators and School Personnel,” defines sexual orientation as “an enduring emotional, romantic, or sexual attraction that one feels toward men, toward women, or toward both.”
No one can change their ethnic or racial background and ethnic and racial slurs are offensive and particularly hurtful to young people. This kind of insult not only offends the youth but also demeans the youth’s family. Reactions can be swift and damaging to both parties when they result in physical altercations. Youth often believe they are defending not only themselves but other family members as well.
Sexual orientation slurs are more confusing to the young. Family, love, shelter and food are necessities for a healthy childhood. In addition, the teaching of tolerance and empathy toward others helps a child to develop a personal stamina that can protect them against racial and sexual insults.
When young men are taught that everyone deserves respect no matter what their sexual orientation is, they realize that the person throwing out the insult is not worthy of further interaction. They can walk away from a potential altercation without feeling they have to defend their sexual preference.
Hate crimes are on the rise in America and all over the world. According to an op-ed piece in The Daily Beast, “The rise of hate crimes can be tied directly to hateful speech.”
Racial and religious minorities, immigrants, the homeless, the disabled, members of the LGBTQ community and others have personally witnessed and experienced this. How do we as educators and parents deal with hateful speech when we hear our children engage in it or when it is used against our children?
Many schools have replaced their zero tolerance attitudes toward student discipline with programs such as The Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance Project. This project “combats prejudice among our nation’s youth while promoting equality, inclusiveness and equitable learning environments in the classroom.
We produce an array of anti-bias resources that we distribute, free of charge, to educators across the country – award-winning classroom documentaries, lesson plans and curricula, Teaching Tolerance magazine, and more.”
As parents, we can take advice from Youth First, Inc., an organization devoted to fostering tolerance and “transforming and strengthening the lives of young people and their families.” They suggest “some ways to foster tolerance with our children include:
1. Teach love first. Show examples of loving others despite the existence of differences. Reach out a helping hand to others even if they are different.
2. Be familiar with and acknowledge the values and biases you have. It is important to evaluate ourselves in terms of our own beliefs and the differences we struggle with tolerating.
3. Exposure to differences throughout childhood teaches children they do not have to agree with others in order to respect others.
4. Allow children to explore other cultures and different viewpoints. This can teach children an appreciation and respect for others while allowing them the freedom to express their own views and values.
5. When intolerance rears its ugly head, including through media and social interactions, take the opportunity to challenge it. We can teach our children to not endorse or participate in jokes that promote stereotyping, belittling or degrading others.
Hawaii’s cultural, ethnic, racial and religious diversity is both a blessing and a challenge. Children are taught discrimination and by the time they are in their teens they have internalized the ideas of their parents.
Allowing our children to relish our state’s rich heritage, to accept and enjoy our differences and to appreciate and be educated by those differences will make for a more peaceful community at school, in our neighborhoods and in our families.
Esther Solomon is with Hale ‘Opio Kauai, which convened a support group of adults in our Kauai community to “step into the corner” for our teens, to answer questions and give support to youth and their families on a wide variety of issues. Please email your questions or concerns facing our youth and families today to Esther Solomon at firstname.lastname@example.org For more information about Hale ‘Opio Kaua’i, please go to www.haleopio.org