A new study reveals the impact of social identities in children’s lives. The focus also extends to how parents are skipping out on major conversations about race that could benefit children. A definite conclusion: building a solid and positive sense of identity involving race/ethnicity, gender, religion, and social class is vital for a child’s healthy development.
Researchers at Sesame Workshop and NORC at the University of Chicago reveal parents aren’t equipping kids with the necessary tools to succeed. Sesame Workshop, the minds behind beloved Sesame Street, led the social identity study.
The Sesame Workshop Identity Matters Study included 6,070 parents/caregivers of children ages 3 to 12 and 1,046 educators in prekindergarten through 5th grade. According to the study, over 60% of parents rarely, or never, discuss race/ethnicity or social class with their children.
Only 10% of parents report talking with their children about race or ethnicity; while 28% report sometimes discussing race and ethnicity. Even fewer parents talk about their socioeconomic class with their kids — 8% often talk about it, while 23% sometimes talk about it.
Why Aren’t Parents Talking to Kids About Identity?
Identity’s role on kids isn’t lost on parents and educators. Almost 7 in 10 parents believe that race/ethnicity and social class have an impact on children’s future, but the severity remains unrecognized. Only 31% of parents believe the impact is major.
“Many adults believe if they don’t talk about social categories like race, religion, or social class, their children won’t notice them, but they’re misinformed,” Beverly Daniel Tatu, Ph.D. President Emerita, Spelman College said in a press release.
Parents also think individual characteristics, like personalities and abilities, have a larger impact on one’s future than social identities do.
Minority Groups Face Different Impacts
Children from minority groups are more likely to hear negative comments about their identities, making them more vulnerable to forming a more negative self-image. At an age when it’s difficult to understand identity, it’s important for parents to guide their children through the topics of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic class, etc.
Parents of minority groups were more likely to recognize social identity’s impact on a child’s future. The study found that black parents (49%) were much more likely to see race/ethnicity as having a major impact on their kids than white parents (29%) did.
More parents of minority groups report their kids having heard at least one negative comment about their religion or race; 46% of Muslim parents, 40% of black parents, and 32% of Asian parents reported negative comments. These negative comments contribute to kids’ low self-esteem that they can carry later on in life.
When Should Parents Start The Conversation?
Researchers emphasize it’s never too early for parents to discuss social identity with their kids. “Many parents appear to be unaware of exactly how early children recognize identity-based differences, leading them to possibly under-emphasize this subject during their children’s critical early years,” Tanya Haider, Executive Vice President for Strategy, Research, and Ventures of Sesame Workshop said in a statement. For many, conversations don’t take place until it’s too late.
Less than half of parents say their children are fully aware they’re different than others because of their social identity. Many of the parents believed that awareness grew with age, naturally.
Children will hear about it, whether it be from their peers, social media, even adults, in their daily lives. Without proper discussion, kids won’t know to reject negative stereotypes tied to their social identities. Instead, they may internalize these stereotypes. It’s important to start conversations now to give children all the tools to establish a positive sense of identity.