Talking to Kids About Racism and Violence
Being a parent means having some pretty tough conversations with our kids. We need to talk to them about sex and consent, body image and self-esteem, and the events happening around the country and globe. We have to toe a very fine line between addressing these issues, and doing so in an age-appropriate way. But most of all, we have to do our due diligence and confront them. Sticking our heads in the sand when it comes to tough topics does no one any good, and could actually do a lot of harm. One of the most important topics we should be addressing with our kids, on a continuous basis, is racism. Given some of the events of the last few years, it’s not a subject you can skirt around any longer. Talking to kids about racism and violence isn’t easy, but it’s so important.
Ignoring that racism is very much alive and well is only aiding those rely on a system of oppression to maintain their supremacy. Talking to kids about racism and violence is an important step toward dismantling that system.
People of color have been having these conversations with their kids from the very beginning, out of necessity. But for a surprising number of white people, the violent protests that happened in Charlottesville in August 2017 was the first time they needed to confront racism and violence. Or rather, the first time they couldn’t ignore it and look the other way. When white nationalists descended on Charlottesville, VA, the scene quickly turned to violence and chaos. Three people lost their lives that day, including a protester named Heather Heyer. Heather was killed when a racist terrorist rammed his car into a crowd of counterprotesters. TV screens were filled with images of terror, violence, and Nazis spreading their disgusting ideology.
You couldn’t escape it, even if you wanted to. It was and will always be considered one of the darkest moments in recent American history. But what happened in Charlottesville (and what continues to happen across the country everyday) is the perfect place to start when talking to kids about racism and violence.
How do you prepare to have those tough conversations? First, by educating yourself.
We obviously want to protect our kids. But ignoring that racism and violence exist can be more harmful than talking about it openly and honestly. Kids are going to hear about it, either on the news or from friends or in school. So in order to make sure they’re getting the right information, it needs to come from you. But before you can open up that line of discussion, you need to make sure you understand what’s going on.
Before sitting down to talk to kids about racism and violence, educate yourself. Not just by reading the news, although that’s helpful. But also by tapping resources like the Anti-Defamation League for more information. Reach out to organizations within your own community. Ask your friends of color for tips on addressing racism with your white children. This is one area where you really can’t be too prepared.
Keep the conversations age-appropriate.
When it comes to younger kids, it might be harder for them to process what’s happening and grasp the larger ideas. Relate things back to their world, by talking about how to deal with someone who is being disrespectful or mean, and who to turn to if they ever feel unsafe. Always stress the importance of differences, and explain that some people use those differences to divide and hurt others.
With tweens and teens, who are likely going to be exposed to events like Charlottesville through the news or social media, it’s OK to be more blunt. Share your own experiences with them, and ask them how they feel watching and reading about what’s going on. This is also a great age to expose them to resources and organizations that work to combat racism and violence, and encourage them to get involved.
Please don’t use the “we don’t see color” argument.
You DO see color. We all do. There’s nothing wrong with admitting that. By teaching your kids not to see color, you’re teaching them not to recognize how the color of someone’s skin is used against them. Explain that people of color are often treated unfairly because of the color of their skin. Emphasis that it is NEVER acceptable to treat someone differently because they look different than you do. If you’re a white parent with white kids, this is a good time to start talking about the privilege of your own skin color. Also, talk to your kids about their responsibility to stand up to racism and bullying, and how to use their own privilege to help those who don’t have it.
When talking to kids about racism and violence, listen. LISTEN. Listen, and answer their questions as openly and honestly as you can.
Kids are going to have questions, it’s part of their inquisitive nature. Don’t shrug off their questions, even if they’re difficult to answer. If you don’t know the answer, be honest with them! And then do some research together. Your kids need to feel comfortable coming to you, and they need to feel comfortable asking you those hard questions. There’s no shame in admitting you don’t know something, we’re all learning how to deal with this everyday. But you can learn TOGETHER.
Talking to kids about racism and violence is one of the most important things we can do as parents. We have to raise the next generation to do better. To BE better. And that starts at home, and with us.
(Image: iStock / Sladic; LittleBee80)