A study in India reveals that children are forming racial and body size-based prejudices at an early age due to parental and media influences.
Close to 80% of the study’s respondents-7,000 children as young as two to six years from four cities, Mumbai, Pune, Bengaluru and Chennai -showed a preference for fair skin. As a test, blonde, light coloured dolls were kept next to dark ones and they were asked to pick one. 60% three year olds and 80% children above four years chose the fair dolls. Only 20% opted for a dark doll even when a fair one was available.
When asked what prompted their choice, 40% of them equated beauty with fair skin-they had heard at home that “fair skin was better”, while 20% said even their mom used fairness cream “to look beautiful”. 40% had learnt from cartoons and movies that dark people are ‘bad’.
Another experiment showed that children were judging people based on their size. A group of helpers and teachers were brought in to interact with the kids but 70% responded more to a thin teacher or helper than to a large sized one. Only 30% seemed to be comfortable with both, while two-year olds showed an interest in whoever smiled or was kind to them. Majority of the kids used words like “moti” or “unhealthy” to describe fat people. They said their parents go to the gym because being fat is bad, states the research.
To make matters worse, children were found to be discriminating on religious and financial grounds as well. 72% kids surveyed knew their own religion and didn’t want to play with those belonging to minorities. Similarly, when shown pictures of a rich and poor kid (both pictures were labelled) and asked which one they would befriend, at least 46% pointed to the rich kid.
“The results of this study are worrying as it is seen that adults, both teachers and parents, are unknowingly sowing the seeds of bias and /or racism in young children,” said Swati Popat Vats, director, Born Smart Institute of Parenting and president, Podar Institue of Education, which conducted the study.
Explaining the long-term impact on children, Vats said, “As children grow older, these likes and dislikes can become deep-rooted biases that can colour their relationships, their voting patterns, their employment opportunities and much more.”
Child development specialists asked parents to mind their words and actions around children. “Even though they may not understand why they are feeling that way, children exposed to racism tend to accept and embrace it as young as the age of 3,” said Reeta Sonavat, professor and head of the department of human resource development at SNDT Women’s University, Juhu.