Culture and Customs

Understanding your mentee and the background they are coming from may be one of the most important parts of mentoring and a necessary ingredient to building a great relationship. This can also be one of the biggest challenges as a mentor, especially when their cultural norms, priorities, and behaviors don’t agree with our expectations. But it is necessary to have an open mind and meet your mentee where they are, not where you want them to be. Being a mentor is also a wonderful opportunity to expand the worldview of a child beyond the culture they are comfortable with and help them develop an appreciation for diversity that will serve them well throughout their life.

Children tend to be most comfortable interacting with people and ideas that are familiar to them. Many react to unfamiliar circumstances with fear and mistrust, which are natural insticts. Because of this, minority students can feel pressured to abandon their cultural traditions in order to blend in to the majority culture, or can cling more closely to those from a similar cultural background. These situations can result in a great deal of stress, harming the child’s social and academic performance.2  

At its worst, discomfort with people who seem different can lead to racism, the belief that one’s own race is superior. Experiencing racism negatively affects children’s self-esteem and self-confidence and can damage their sense of belonging to the wider community.

Fortunately, children can learn to appreciate diversity and to treat all people with respect. Children are deeply influenced by example; you may be just the model of tolerance that your mentee needs. You can also encourage your mentee to gain a deeper understanding of and respect for his or her heritage. Find tips on how to encourage respect for diversity in the articles “Teaching Your Child Tolerance” and “Learning About Diversity.”

Resources:

CultureCrossing.net:
Cultural info about every country in the world

Teaching Your Child Tolerance
Tips on ways to encourage tolerance

Learning About Diversity

Empathy and Cultural Competence: Reflections from Teachers of Culturally Diverse Children
Illustrates the challenges faced by minority children in school

Messages for Parents: Talking to Children about Diversity

References



1. “What is Culture?

2. “Promoting Respect for Cultural Diversity in the Classroom

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