Have I told you lately it's okay to like princesses?
In the first ad babies and toddlers played together in a creche apparently oblivious to any sectarian or cultural differences. In the other, two boys, probably aged eight or nine and clearly established pals, played together on a beach and innocently swapped a King Billy badge and a GAA medal. Both ads ended with Morrison off-screen quoting his line from Coney Island: “Wouldn’t it be great if it was like this all the time?”
Sectarian divides persist
The premise of the marketing campaign was that a sense of cultural or religious difference is something children develop later in life. It seemed somewhat naive in the mid-1990s and seems even more so now after two decades of peace, when sectarian divides persist and 14-year-olds are to the fore in riots they and their elders claim are designed to defend their right to a British and loyalist identity.
Anyone seeking advice on how best to rear a child who respects diversity and difference is met with a variety of views. Even the expert commentary accessible on the internet, limited though it is, disagrees on how and whether parents can shape their children’s values in this area and, if they can, at what stage and age parents might best hope to do so.
Some of the commentary is fatalistic, saying parenting, even if active in encouraging openness and respect for diversity, cannot buttress much against the overwhelming impact of television, the playground or society generally.
There is, I suspect, no easy answer to the question. It seems to me, however, that it is not a bad thing for children to understand that some people are different and that there is diversity in every sphere of human life, activity or existence.
It seems inevitable that they will come to appreciate this anyway. The task is to persuade or better still show our children every day that those lives, existences and choices have equal validity. So while most children have both a mum and a dad, some families are structured differently and may not have a mum. Those children are no less loved or cared for.
The lesson from Northern Ireland is probably that exposure to other cultures in childhood or to children from other cultures is no guarantee of respect, tolerance or integration.
Our task as adults, whether we are parents or not, is surely to help children acknowledge difference and individual choices but not from a standpoint of judgment, particularly if those judgments are crowd-sourced or wedded to a popular view of the world.
So, while liking the Disney princess room might be perceived to put a little boy in a minority, it is a choice that merits validation and, if required, support.