Harder than birds and bees? Talking to kids about race and class

There’s a tough subject parents might be shying away from talking about with their children -- and it’s not the birds and the bees.

A new study by the researchers at Sesame Street indicates a majority of parents might not be having a conversation with their kids about race, class or ethnicity -- the factors that make up social identities.

Rory Breaker, 11, and his little brother, Auggie, live in a multicultural neighborhood in New York City. When you ask about his family, Rory says he acts most like his mom, Kate, a theater director.

“We like to do a lot of the same things,” Rory told Ivanhoe.

But he looks more like his dad, Daniel, a Broadway actor.

“I think we have the same nose,” Rory said.

Diversity is part of the fabric of Rory’s family. His parents talk about it. But is that the exception rather than the rule?

Tanya Haider is the executive vice president of strategy for Sesame Workshop. Sesame and NORC at the University of Chicago conducted a nationwide survey of more than 6,000 parents and found 68% of the respondents felt race has some impact on a child’s ability to succeed. But 60% rarely discuss race or ethnicity or social class, even though kids notice differences at a very early age.

“On the playground, ‘Hey mom, why is that person’s skin color different than mine? Why is that lady wearing something on her head?’ We tend to shush them up. We get embarrassed or think we’re going to offend someone," Haider said.

The research suggests parents should look for events and opportunities to celebrate their child’s heritage, color, religious beliefs, and family makeup and look for opportunities to discuss and embrace differences.

“It could be a moment in the supermarket, a moment on the playground," Haider said.

These are the moments that will help your child learn more about themselves and the diverse world around them.

The new study builds on previous research that finds a positive social identity and acceptance are associated with greater self-esteem, tolerance and also better outcomes in the teen years and adulthood.