Exposing children to the idea of privilege

Last December, our team at Parenting Matters underwent an intense workshop with our Mentor, Ruth Beaglehole , from Los Angeles. She has been in the field of Parent Education for over 40 years. Among the many issues she explored with us, awareness of privilege was one of them. We all spoke about it at length and realised that it’s often something that we may have not consciously included in our lives or our children's. 

What do we mean by privilege? 

We live in a world where some may have privileges which others don't.  Privileges are advantages one has which come in many forms- it could be economic, social or cultural. Privilege may come from belonging to a family that has had generations of wealth or education. Or one may have privilege which comes due to skin colour, caste, family stability or gender. Privilege can be very subtle where some have easy access to admissions, jobs, promotions or even a house to rent while others face discrimination which can be overt or not so overt. Disprivilege can be related to gender, ability, being part of a minority group or even sexual orientation.  

Why is it important to be aware of privilege? 

Being aware of privilege means creating a shift in perspective of how one sees the world and this shapes the messages we give our children. A person with privilege may assume one has achieved more because one is more deserving, but when one looks around one may realise that many in society haven’t started at the same point. So what one has achieved may not always be directly correlated to how smart or hardworking one. There may be many equally smart and hardworking people out there who could not achieve the same because of lack of privilege. 

As we raise children, it is valuable for them to know their family narratives and the narrative of their community. Not having an idea of one's own or others background and history causes people to have unfounded prejudices and judgements. We can teach children to approach others from a place of curiosity rather than judgement. 

Why talk to children about privilege? 

If we want to raise children who care about social justice, understanding and recognising privilege should form a part of family conversations. As mentioned earlier there are so many layers to privilege. A person may be privileged in one sphere of life and not in another. For example, there may be a child who comes from a secure family or a comfortable economic background but may lack of privilege because of disability. Or a woman may be highly educated but yet not have the privilege her male counterparts have. These are two very simple examples but in our very complex Indian society we could explore many more areas including caste and religion. 

These are conversations which can empower our children wherever they may be on this spectrum.  

 Those who have been denied privilege may be acutely aware of the doors which are often closed to them. Yet are those who have privilege aware of this?  What messages are we giving children who may come from either of these spaces?  Does a child from an educated family understand the struggle faced by a first-generation learner? Does the first-generation learner recognise how much she has achieved with so little advantage? 

These are valuable discussions to have as a family.  For example, in a male dominated organisation, a woman may be very competent but unable to understand why she is not getting a promotion.  A child who struggles with dyslexia may lose self-esteem and feel ashamed rather than face an understanding of why he needs to be given extra time or taught differently. Acknowledging that there are differences in privilege helps us all understand what support or advantage has to be given to different groups to create level playing field. It enables one to claim one’s rights without any shame.  One also finds solidarity with others with similar struggles and makes one realise one is not alone. The awareness and discussion about privilege empowers groups of people to stand up and fight for their rights. 

The conversation with those children who do have privilege is to create an awareness that life has given one opportunity one hasn't asked for or earned. It is not about feeling guilty but cultivating empathy and being fully human. These conversations could help one reflect on what it would take for everyone to have the access you have and do your part to make it happen. Providing these opportunities and support is not a favour. It is way to set right an injustice. 

If we parents have such conversations with our children, we can hope to create a much more compassionate, sensitive and just society.

Author: Kesang Menezes is a certified Parent Educators with Parenting Matters, an organisation that promotes parents to build deeper connection within families.