How to handle racism with your child
Tory N. Parrish
The ways in which parents of color prepare their children for encountering racism and addressing it when it occurs are important. Here are some tips for parents from Dr. Anita Jones Thomas, a psychologist and dean of the College of Applied Behavioral Sciences at the University of Indianapolis, and Dr. Nzinga Harrison, a psychiatrist based in metropolitan Atlanta.
Here are some tips for parents from Thomas and Harrison:
Limit children’s social media use. Children may have difficulty processing or interpreting the material they see on social media, sometimes because they are too young to cognitively understand the material, Thomas said. Or youth may not understand the full context of what they see in videos or posts. Thomas pointed to the viral video of a group of students from Covington Catholic High School surrounding a Native American man during a rally in Washington, D.C. as an example. Parents can provide context or explanations for their children, such as why people were protesting, what the boys may have been thinking, how the Native Americans may have felt. “They can then process the child's reaction, and give instructions on how the child should react if something similar were to happen.”
Talk about it and ask questions. Often parents are reluctant to have frank conversations about racism with their children for fear of making them paranoid, which is a mistake, Thomas said. Discussing it with children helps them identify the discrimination, depersonalize it and resist it, she said.
Set an example. Children of color having allies in strong family and community support systems is critical, especially for kids who are already vulnerable, Harrison said. For parents, that also means having rational, effective conversations with adults in a position to stop the discrimination – school principals, teachers, coaches, etc., she said. Irate responses don’t help, and may perpetuate stereotypes and make things worse for children when they have the same experiences with racism again, Harrison said. “And we know they’re going to have the same experience. … because they’re alive in the United States,” she said.
For more information, check out the American Psychological Association’s online resources. Then head over to the online magazine to read a Pittsburgh woman’s story of confronting racism at her daughter’s middle school in <“Never fade away: The childhood scars of racism”>