Talking to Kids About Charlottesville by Sonia Kang | August 12 2017, 0 Comments
As a state of emergency was being declared in Charlottesville, I decided to call my own emergency family meeting.
The kids rolled their eyes and put up a fuss in normal kid fashion but as parents, we are not ones to shy away from tough issues.
Sadly, we have had these types of discussions with more frequency in the last couple of years as we have seen an unusually high amount of racism, bigotry, violence and death.
As parents of brown children, my husband and I have dealt with many tough issues just as my ancestors have had to deal with them with their children.
These issues are not new.
Growing up when my family would talk about The Civil Rights Movement or we touched upon it in school, I always wondered what side I would be on. I wondered how active I would have been during the protests. I would like to think I would do what I am doing today and that is not taking the easy road and talking about the tough issues with anyone I can.
Today I’m talking with my children, ages 9-25.
Having four children in different age ranges means I have to handle the discussions differently but I talk to them about the same issues.
Whether it’s the birds and the bees, driving while brown, drinking, drugs, or gun violence. We tackle them.
The conversation around what is happening in Charlottesville would be no different.
Here’s how I approach difficult issues like the one that’s happening in Charlottesville:
- Don’t avoid tough conversations
Today’s children are inundated with information so it’s important to talk about them.
You may think by avoiding television and social media you are doing them a service but conversations are being had around them so it’s important that you are aware of the conversations you are having with friends, family members or even strangers.
Treat kids like you would a microphone, assume it’s a hot mic because whether you think they are or not, kids hear more than you think.
Knowing that kids don't always have the language to ask the questions is another reason why you shouldn’t avoid talking about difficult conversations. Their receptive language may not be on the same level as their expressive so they are hearing things and may not know how to process it in order to tell you how they are feeling.
- Help them by talking about it
As a parent, we don't want to feel like their childhood is being ruined in any way.
I totally get that we want them to have a carefree childhood. We can't always keep life away from them so I take that responsibility out of their hands and initiate the conversations.
When the presidential elections were going on, my youngest children were hearing things on the playground. They heard things like “build a wall” and “leave America and go back to where you are from.” They didn’t come out and tell me until I brought up the conversation during one of our “check-ins.”
Once I started the conversation, the floodgates opened and out came everything they had been hearing; some from right in our home or in the home of loved ones.
- Make it age appropriate
Having children in different age groups means I need to split them up and have different conversations about the same issues. I typically start by asking the kids what they have heard. From there I can decide how much I say and how descriptive I can be. My youngest is at the age where he has a vivid imagination and gets scared a bit easier than the others. Know your kids and adjust what and how much you say. Start slow and let them guide the tempo.
- Be cognizant of what and how you say things
Our children are watching us for cues on what to say and how they should react.
These are very difficult conversations and most times I am saddened by what’s going on. Like them, I am hearing incendiary language and may want to lash out. It’s at these times where it’s important to try and choose not to be part of the vitriolic language.
What helps me is continuing to repeat, “I may not be able to control what others do or say, but I can control how I react and I choose not to be incendiary.”
Choose not to use the same language and spew the same hatred.
- Look at the facts
When events like Charlottesville occur, there’s so much information. It’s important to find a reputable news source.
- Do some research
Today was a day of history lessons. We started the conversation by discussing where Charlottesville was and what the initial protest was about.
The onus is on parents to research and discuss topics. Do not assume they are taught in school.
We looked up the initial protest, which was about removing the statue of Gen Robert E Lee. This led us to work backwards by looking at who he was, backing even further to who were the Confederates and so on.
Do the work because it is so important to give children accurate information especially when talking to kids about such things as race, culture, heritage, history, bias, diversity and inclusion.
- Avoid euphemisms
Call out hate and bigotry. Call White supremacy, White supremacy. Use the words and call it what it is.
We should also challenge and call out media to do the same.
- Empower them
I try to end conversations like these with some call to action. Is there a community event or upcoming march they’d like to participate in? Do they want to take some quiet time together as a family? How about saying a prayer or make a special wish for the safety of others. Whatever it is that you can offer your children, do so. I try to offset the conversation by offering up some hope and optimism to my children. I know during these conversations we have laid down some heavy stuff and maybe they just need to be held or given a hug.
- Be part of the solution
Many organizations are putting in the time and doing good work out there.
Check them out:
Mixed Heritage Day 9/23/17 at Dodger Stadium
- Be an ally
This is something White parents can be. Time and research has shown the "I see no color" mentality does not work and is part of problem. Teach your children to see us and respect other cultures.
Learn about others you share this world with. The more you learn about them, the more you will see we are more alike than we are different. It is about inclusion rather than division.
We need you to see us. We need you to stand up with us. We need you to fight with us.
It’s a matter of life and death.