A recent string of police killings of African Americans confounded with years of racial inequality have prompted hundreds of protests all over the world and exploded into a media hailstorm that’s impossible to ignore.
Considering this is already a difficult time for many families in light of COVID-19, parents’ first instincts may be to avoid causing further stress with difficult conversations. But that would be ill advised.
“Children and adolescents are experiencing the collateral consequences of the publicized murders of Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and George Floyd, whether they have a smartphone in their direct possession or not,” pediatrician Dr. Rhea Boyd told CNN.
Children are always watching, taking note of parents’ distress as they watch the news or scroll through social media. And despite parents’ best wishes and intentions, children are not colorblind: They absorb implicit bias in the world and institutions around them, with or without parental input, internalizing racial bias by age 2 to 4, according to Maryland Pediatrician Dr. Jaqueline Dougé.
Because children absorb racial bias like a sponge, it is especially crucial for parents of white and non-black children to step in and be active participants in their child’s nonblack learning. As the esteemed activist and scholar Angela Davis stated, “In a racist society, it is not enough to be nonracist, we must be anti-racist.”
ASSESS YOUR STRESS
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), it is important to check in with yourself first and get in the right frame of mind before speaking with your children. There is no perfect formula for what that looks like nor is there a perfect antidote to your own stress; just be sure to take time for yourself and reflect on your feelings: Talk to your partner, parent, friend or therapist.
TALK IT OUT
Check in with your child and have age-appropriate conversations about what they know and what they are feeling.
For all children, these are teachable moments in which to acknowledge that people of color are often treated differently because of the color of their skin, and also to provide an outlet in which feelings can be expressed and validated from a place of love. Even if your child expresses internalized racial bias, approach them first with understanding, and then ask questions that provide perspective. Whether or not you have all the answers, encourage conversations so children can navigate their feelings with the support of a caring adult.
MEDIA AS A TOOL
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children learn racial bias like they learn a language, meaning they start to recognize race-based differences as early as 6 months, internalize racial bias as early as age 2, and become set in their ways by age 12.
That’s why it is critical to provide your child with age-appropriate books and media that represent the diversity in the world, feature protagonists of color, and address issues of racism. With grade-schoolers, the AAP suggests pointing out stereotypes and racial bias in books and media, such as villains or “bad guys” in movies. When children of color see diversity and positive representations of themselves in books and on screen, it directly impacts their self-esteem.
These suggestions might seem obvious, but it is our everyday actions and comments that speak volumes.
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