A new study from Sesame Workshop and NORC at the University of Chicago reveals that the kids might not be all right after all: only a quarter (28 percent) of parents in America say that they “sometimes” talk to their children about their race and ethnicity, and a mere 10 percent of parents do it “often.”
“Identity Matters: Parents’ and Educators’ Perceptions of Children’s Social Identity Development” surveyed more than 1,000 educators and 6,000 parents of children ages three to 12 as part of Sesame Workshop’s 50th anniversary commemoration. “We wanted to know how parents and educators think—and talk—about children’s identities in the rapidly changing social landscape of today, so we partnered with NORC at the University of Chicago to undertake the ‘Identity Matters’ study, in hopes of gaining understanding and starting a national conversation on this important and complex issue,” the company said in a statement.
Tanya Haider, executive vice president for strategy, research and ventures at Sesame Workshop told NPR that some children may want to ask their parents questions like, “‘Why is this person darker than me?’ ‘Why is this person wearing that hat on their head?’” but they get shut down. “We sometimes are scared to talk about these things. If the adults stiffen up and say, ‘Oh, you shouldn’t say that loudly,’ that’s sending [children] a cue that there’s something wrong.”
The respondents were asked to focus on their attitudes, experiences and approaches to talking to children about race and ethnicity, gender, country of origin, religious beliefs, social class and family composition. Across the board, parents saw their kids’ identity signifiers as secondary to their personal attributes.
Other key findings pulled directly from the report:
Only 8 percent of parents report that they often discuss their socioeconomic class with their children, with another 25% sometimes talking about it. This leaves over 60 percent of parents rarely or never discussing race/ethnicity or social class with their children.
Compared to other groups, Black parents are most likely to report on the importance of identity in determining children’s future. For example, Black parents are much more likely to see race/ethnicity as having a major impact (49 percent) on children’s ability to succeed in this country than White (28 percent), Hispanic (29 percent) or Asian parents (29 percent).
Forty-six percent of Muslim parents, 40 percent of Black parents and 32 percent of Asian parents say their child has heard a negative comment at least once. Half of parents of transgender children report that their child has heard a negative comment about their gender.
While it does not include recommendations, the report does list several implications for the findings, including the need to rethink how adults and organizations interact with children by addressing a series of questions:
How might our nation’s educators and research community build broad-based recognition of the positive value of social identity factors? Given the association between frequent conversation and negative comments, are the conversations that families and schools are having around identity occurring only when something hurtful was said, rather than spurred by pride or joy around one’s heritage, color, beliefs or family structure? How might the nation better celebrate diversity as a protective factor for children’s pathways to success?