I had planned to write about summer reading recommendations this week, but some things take priority.
Right now there are a lot of scary and very intense things happening in the news all across the country and they are not likely to go anywhere anytime soon. As with most things, our kids pick up on more of what is going on around them than we may realize, and keeping an open and realistic dialogue with them is one of the best things we can really do to make a lasting impact on how they interpret and internalize what is happening in the world around them.
The murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis Police officer in full view of a crowd, on video from multiple angles, and carried out in clear disregard from protests by EMT’s and medical professionals, has re-ignited a spark that smolders at the heart of the American consciousness. That spark has, quite literally, turned into a blaze that is burning its way across the country. The initial protests were met with tear gas and rubber bullets and quickly devolved into riots and looting in some areas. As store owners board up their places of business and protests continue, it is important to take a moment and consider how these events are meant to be interpreted by the most impressionable around us – our kids.
How much do our kids already know?
Kids see more than you think. I don’t mean that your toddler is secretly watching the news while you are not looking. But they are catching glimpses, some longer and more revealing than others, of a situation that is big and scary and difficult for even some adults to understand.
If you have a teenager who is on social media they probably know more about what is happening than you do right now. If you have a preteen with a Tik Tok, they have seen cuts of the footage, the protests, and probably even a few people “recreating the scene” for laughs (yes, the internet can be a disgusting place). If you have a younger child who plays computer games, they will still probably get banner ads for news networks containing images of cities on fire and protests if not the murder itself. If it is out there, it is online and it is everywhere. They will see it – the only questions are how much will they actually see and whether you will be the one to provide the context for them or if they will get that from the internet as well.
Obviously age will have an impact on how much you child will have access to, how much they actually see, and how you should talk to them about it. But please, do not make the mistake of assuming they have not seen anything about it because, if they are online at all, they probably have.
How to start talking to your kids about George Floyd
Broaching the subject can be tricky, especially if you are not used to practicing open communication about difficult topics. As much as I feel this should go without saying, as you go into this conversation, UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES SHOULD YOU LET YOUR KIDS WATCH THE VIDEO. Again, I feel like this should go without question, but I also know individuals who struggle with expressing difficult concepts. For these parents, it can be so much easier to ‘show’ rather than ‘tell’, a simpler way to explain what started this all.
As an adult, I watched the events George Floyds’ death unfold and I struggled. That kind of content is far too extreme for kids and I would even advise against teens seeing it. Though if older teens are determined to see the footage for themselves they will find a way (ie – the internet), so it may be valid to be there with them when that happens. Otherwise, just click away.
Unpopular Opinion – Conversations on Race will Differ with Race
This conversation will look very different for families with children of color when compared to this same conversation in predominantly white families. And it should.
The disparities that we see in police-involved shootings, incarceration rates, and criminal profiling are something that many people of color will have to deal with, first hand, during their lifetimes. It is horrible and distressing but that does not make it any less true. Conversations about how to stay safe, how to behave around police, legal rights and other concerns that most Caucasian families would never even consider worrying about are happening in households all across America right this very minute. As they will tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that. The hope is that one day those conversations won’t be necessary. But today is not that day.
The other side of the conversation is something that, for older kids at least, may sound familiar. In middle school, we learned about first-hand experiences during the Holocaust as a way of understanding human rights issues that underpinned the policies and politics of WWII. Only now those stories of violence and fear are taking place right in our own backyards, to people we may know and care about. Opening up that possibility also opens kids up to the potential for empathy and deeper understanding.
Teaching Kids to Hold Authorities Accountable
We want to teach our kids to trust authorities because we want them to listen to their teachers, their coaches, and to us. Now we need to teach them to hold those authorities accountable. We need to teach them to trust their instincts and stand up for themselves and others in the safest way possible when they feel something isn’t right. The good news is that many teens and young adults today are already doing just that.
Between growing up in the fictional worlds of Harry Potter, Percy Jackson and Hunger Games and the real-life events of Marjory Stoneman Douglas, Black Lives Matter, Global Climate Change – today’s teens and young adults are already starting to take things into their own hands. They are protesting against their school for siding with teachers who are abusing students (Seatle, 2020). They are speaking out when fellow students are being discriminated against (Texas, 2019). They are protesting for gun control (Parkland, 2018) and environmental policy reform (Internationally, 2019). And they are standing witness to police brutality to hold those responsible accountable for their actions (George Floyd’s murder was filmed by 17-year-old Darnella Frazier).
Talking to Your Kids about Difficult Subjects – Actionable Advice
- Start by Asking Questions and see what your kids already know, it might surprise you.
- Open up a dialogue starting from what they already may have worked out on their own and see how they feel about it.
- Do not pass judgment on your kids’ knowledge, impressions, or interpretations right now. Without context, there is no right or wrong.
- Work on your kids’ age level – do not introduce new information that might be beyond their ability to process intellectually or emotionally. Instead, work with what they already do know.
- Let your child choose the direction the conversation takes. If your child has questions or concerns you can gently encourage them to voice them by with open-ended answers or leaving gaps.
- Let your child decide how much they feel comfortable with knowing. You are trying to provide context for anything they may have picked up already, not tell them what they are supposed to think. If they want to change the subject, let them. The more comfortable they feel with talking to you about difficult subjects, the more willing they will be to bring you questions in the future.
- Diffuse the ‘us against them’ thinking by acknowledging all parties as people with thoughts and fears. Don’t be afraid to admit when ‘your side’ makes mistakes.
- Have ice-cream. Or cake. Make cookies. Do each other’s nails. Build something. Spend time together. This should not be a lecture or a lesson, but a conversation. The more often you do things like this, the more comfortable and natural it will be moving forward.
This is going to be a difficult conversation to have. Have it anyway.