Psychologist parents highlight importance of raising culturally aware children

Couple encourages tough conversations about culture, race, ethnicity and their value

Southeast Michigan, like most areas, is home to an array of people from all different backgrounds with different cultures. Two experts, who are also parents, are sharing advice for raising culturally diverse children in such a climate.

Southeast Michigan, like most areas, is home to an array of people from all different backgrounds with different cultures.

In an environment that is so culturally diverse, two parents who have PHDs in counseling psychology are highlighting the importance of raising culturally aware children through love and conscientiousness.

Dr. Brandi Pritchett-Johnson and her husband Joe Johnson are raising their two sons, JoJo, 9, and Carter, 7, to treat all people with respect and care.

“What’s important is for me to explain to my children that everybody brings value to the world,” Pritchett-Johnson said.

And their work appears to be paying off, after a recent parent teacher conference made it clear that the boys are understanding that message.

“It wasn’t about the grades,” Johnson said. “... It was about the way he treated another student who didn’t come from the Unites States and didn’t know English. My son made sure to treat that young man and sit with that young man, because nobody was sitting with him, and just hang around and just make sure that he was OK.”

Raising culturally aware children isn’t always easy, and the practice is constantly changing and evolving. The doctors believe that exposure is key when discussing cultural awareness with children.

“From the books that you buy, to the Barbie dolls that you purchase ... television and media, any media format, is a wonderful tool,” Pritchett-Johnson said. “It’s also a tool that should never be taken lightly and in isolation. So, if your only representation of Blackness is a television show, that’s problematic. You need diversification.”

The couple says that talking and asking questions about other cultures is another way to open your child’s eyes to the differences between people, even when those questions might be tough.

“(It’s about) comfort in the discomfort of having uncomfortable conversations,” Pritchett-Johnson said. “It’s not going to always feel good, and you are not always going to have the answer.”

“That’s an issue we have in the world,” Johnson said. “We don’t know how to have hard conversations.”

While the conversations can be difficult, the experts say it’s important to ask questions and to learn about cultures and not be scared of saying the wrong thing.

“If you are going to show up in your authentic range of knowledge, then you are going to brush up against the boundaries of ignorance,” Pritchett-Johnson said. “I do it. I am an educator, I’ve read a lot of books, and I still say things that are ignorant at times. So, I think that you’re not going to be comfortable -- and lthat is actually an indication that you are doing something valuable, in a sense.”

Related: DEI: Helping parents explain diversity, equity, inclusion to their children

Both parents are encouraging parents to know the different between race and culture, as they are different concepts altogether. They say that parents -- and people, in general -- should not enforce a “colorblind” mentality, and should observe the distinction between race, culture and ethnicity.

“The only way you don’t see color is if you’re colorblind. But if someone says that to me, that means you don’t see me,” Johnson said. “I identify as a Black man. And what that means is I want you to see me.”

And though the conversations and the practice can be challenging, Johnson and Pritchett-Johnson continue to teach their children to see and appreciate every person.

“When you have the ability to see others, and feel others -- which is even more important -- (and) do things for others, I’m telling you, this world could end up being a better place,” Johnson said.

For parents, it is helpful to have relationships with people of other cultures that you can be vulnerable with and ask questions about their culture without feeling judged or concerned about offending them, the parents say. The doctors also said they made sure to send their children to a school that is diverse, where they can learn about other cultures and religions.

Related: Trauma from racism: How psychology couple is helping people deal, and heal