Raising cross-cultural kids: Different families have different rules

Whether in an apartment with kids from a dozen countries, or in the United States in one of the least diverse school districts around, we have made it our intention to raise cross-culturally aware kids.  This month we’ll be posting weekly tips on how to foster cross-cultural and interracial sensitivity in your kids–and your self.

Tip #5: Different families have different rules

For better and for worse, children are like sponges.  They will probably accept and copy differences in the way their friends think and act more quickly than most adults. When children play together, you will probably notice some aspects of the child’s behavior rubbing off, no matter how similar or different their culture may be from yours.

While your tendency might be to dislike these new behaviors just because they are different, take time to examine what you believe is right, what is wrong, and what is “just different.”  Ask yourself if a conviction is based on a value you will not compromise, or just a personal preference.

For example, you might dislike the new slang your daughter is using, but realize there is nothing inherently wrong about it—it is “just different.”  On the other hand, you may decide certain behavior, like disobeying adults, is never acceptable.  You might decide that some behavior is unacceptable at home, but fine when your child is out, like watching extra hours of television.

A useful phrase to teach children is, “different families have different rules.”  Let them see that sometimes your rules are more restricting, but sometimes other families allow less freedom in a certain situation.  A child needs to know that it’s okay for other people to behave differently, but that ultimately they must follow the rules you set.

Then as children grow, they need to be brought into the process of not just knowing what you say is right and wrong, but understanding how you decide what’s right and wrong.

Christians across the ages have had to wrestle with culturally-determined questions of right and wrong in many forms.  In the intercultural communication classes I used to teach, we would talk about questions of right, wrong, and “just different” that missionaries to Africa faced: Is it wrong for people of certain cultures to drink blood?  Is it polygamy always wrong?  Are ancestor-adoration and Christianity always incompatible?  Should Christians use herbal medicines?  A question that seems obvious within one culture might be far more complicated in a different context.  The more I study of anthropology, the more I discover  the mistakes people have made when they leap to ethical conclusions across cultures without a fuller understanding of the context.

Read Tip #4


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