Talking to children and teenagers about racism

June 12, 2020

Recent events have highlighted how racism and discrimination harms many. The American Academy of Pediatrics has provided some guidance for parents on how to discuss the issue in an age-appropriate matter.

Millions of Americans experience racism every day, and the events over the past 2 weeks have highlighted how that discrimination hurts everyone. The president of the American Academy of Pediatrics has stated that racism needs to be dismantled on every level, from the personal to the systemic. The organization also provided guidance so that parents can educate their child on issues surrounding race in an age-appropriate matter.1

The guidance reminds parents that children are always listening. They could be hearing about current events from discussions between parents, videos on YouTube, or even news coverage about the protests. For children who have heard or seen the events, it could lead to fears about their own safety or their family’s safety. Children may also have questions about why black victims like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor were killed by the police.

When parents do talk to children about current events, the guidance includes the following tips:

  • Ask the child what they know, what they have seen, and how they are feeling. Tell younger children what the parents are doing to ensure safety and ask older children if they have either experienced racism or seen it happen to others.
  • Keep an eye out for behavioral changes. Parents should contact either their pediatrician or a mental health provider for help if a child is struggling with anxiety, depression, or fear.
  • Put limits on media exposure. Parents should turn the television off when no one is watching and limit exposure to all media for younger children. For older children, parents should discuss what the children have seen.
  • Parents should be cognizant of their own emotions. They should make a list of coping strategies and use them as needed.
  • Make the current events a teachable moment. Parents should use this as an opportunity to discuss the history of racism in the United States and discuss how to make changes.

The guidance also states that although discussion is important, action is also a necessary component to combat racism. It recommends parents consider their biases and then show their child how to respond and interact with people who are different. It also recommends contacting city council members or other local officials and imploring them to advocate for issues that impact people and communities of color. It also recognizes that discussions on racism and race have been common in black households for many years.

Reference:

1. Heard-Garris N, Dougé J. Talking to children about racism: the time is now. HealthyChildren.org. Updated June 1, 2020. Accessed June 5, 2020. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/emotional-wellness/Building-Resilience/Pages/Talking-to-Children-about-Racism.aspx