Moving past us-versus-them thinking
Episode 25 – Bryson, Age 10: Handling teasing about religion
Think About It Questions
- How many different religions can you name? What do you know about them?
- What examples can you think of in your life of us-versus-them thinking or in-group bias (meaning kids prefer people in their own group compared to another group)? What do you think might help these groups get along better?
- Have you ever been picked on or treated unfairly because of your religion? Have you ever heard someone else getting picked on because of their religion? How did you handle it?
- Do you think kids or adults are more accepting of differences? Why?
- Why is it wonderful that everyone is not exactly like you?
Hi, there! I’m Dr. Eileen Kennedy-Moore, also known as Dr. Friendtastic. I’m an author and clinical psychologist based in Princeton, NJ.
Here’s today’s question:
Hi, my name is Bryson. My age is 10, and my question today is why do people tease other kids or their religion or because their religion?
Hi, Bryson. Thanks for sending in your question! You’ve touched on an ironic topic. Ironic means what really happens is the opposite of what we’d expect. Religion is supposed to be about being a good person, so we’d expect people who care about religion to be extra kind. But sometimes, in history and also in modern times, religion is used as an excuse for being mean to certain people.
So why do some kids tease others because of their religion? Often it’s because of what they hear from adults. Unfortunately, it’s very easy for people to fall into us-versus-them thinking, and we tend to think that our group–however we define that–is better than the other group. We also tend to like our group members more than nonmembers. That’s called in-group bias, and it can lead to in-group favoritism, which means treating our group members better than we treat other group members.
Scientists have found that in-group bias happens in kids as young as 3 years of age, and it happens even if the groups are created in meaningless or random ways.
You may have noticed lots of different kinds of in-group bias: Fourth graders versus fifth graders, students in this classroom versus that classroom, boys versus girls, kids who root for this sports team versus that sports team…
It’s hard to completely eliminate in-group bias because we tend to feel more comfortable with people we think are “like us,” whatever that means. But getting to know people from other groups and cooperating with them can help increase both understanding and liking.
If someone is making fun of YOU because of your religion, talk with your grown-ups about how to handle it. If the other kids are usually kind and just don’t realize their comments upset you, you may want to explain. But if you don’t think the other kids are going to listen or care, or you don’t feel like explaining, it may make sense to say something like, “That comment is ignorant,” then walk away, or you could just ignore them and hang out with someone kinder. If the comments are very mean or happen often, you may want to talk to an adult in charge so they can handle the situation.
What about if you hear someone make a mean comment about someone else’s religion? That could be a great opportunity for you to stand up for what’s right. You might say, “Hey! It’s not cool to say that!” or “That’s an unkind thing to say!” or just, “That’s not true!” You could also tell a grown-up what’s happening.
More generally, you may want to make an effort to learn about different religions. That’s a respectful thing to do. It’s also fascinating to learn about what different religions believe, how they practice, and how they’re similar to or different from your beliefs. Not everyone is exactly like you, and that’s interesting and wonderful!
This has been Kids Ask Dr. Friendtastic. If you have a question about making and keeping friends that you’d like me to answer, go to DrFriendtastic.com, and click on the podcast tab to see how to submit your question.
And be sure to check out my books for kids about friendship: Growing Friendships: A Kids’ Guide to Making and Keeping Friends, and my new book, Growing Feelings: A Kids’ Guide to Dealing with Emotions About Friends and Other Kids. They’re available through your library or wherever you buy books.