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June 22, 2015

What Should We Tell Our Children About Charleston?

Credit: Stephen Melkisethian / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Credit: Stephen Melkisethian / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

As we grieve, protest and further investigate the horrific murder of nine African American parishioners at the historic Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC, many people are asking: What should we tell the children?

Parents, family members and others are sometimes uneasy about discussing issues of violence and injustice with children because they want to protect them from terrible and scary topics. However, it is important that children have a language for discussing the unfairness and injustice they see in the world and that as adults, we model that these conversations are ones we are willing to engage in as we assure them that we are working to counteract injustice.

Except for very young children, it is important to raise the issue with children. It is likely that with online access and the 24/7 hour news cycle, many young people have already heard about it and may be looking for an opportunity to learn more. In talking with children about emotionally challenging topics, remember to:

  • Give them the time and space to express their feelings (whatever those feelings are) and actively listen with empathy and compassion.
  • Find out what they already know, clarify any misinformation they have and answer their questions. If you don’t know the answer, be honest about that and find out the answer together.
  • In an age-appropriate way and using language they can understand, share your own thoughts, feelings and specific values about the topic.
  • Give youth information about what is being done to make things safe and what actions are taking place to counteract the injustice.

Here are specific talking points you may want to cover with young people:

Words and symbols matter

We have heard that the alleged shooter, Dylann Storm Roof, told racist jokes and spewed biased ideology. A contemporary of Roof’s said “He made a lot of racist jokes, but you don’t really take them seriously like that.” Hate has the potential to escalate and the Pyramid of Hate illustrates how biased behaviors and attitudes—when left unchallenged—can lead to more serious acts of discrimination and bias-motivated violence such as the one perpetrated in Charleston. If those attitudes, beliefs and behaviors were questioned and addressed, perhaps there would have been different outcomes and those nine lives would not have been taken.

Symbols are forms of communication that convey important messages to children about what we value, what is important and what kind of society we want to create. Hate symbols, especially when disseminated and pervasive, communicate that hate and bias are acceptable. Roof had patches on his jacket of flags of regimes in South African and Rhodesia that enforced the violent white minority rule. He was also seen in several photos with a Confederate flag, which has come to symbolize racial hatred and bigotry. Ironically, the flag is still displayed in South Carolina’s statehouse grounds in Columbia and activists and elected officials have been pressing for its removal for years.

Racism is systemic and can be overcome

While Roof was not a formal member of a white supremacist organization, he espoused white supremacy ideology that is prevalent, online and worldwide. In addressing this topic with young people, we need to give them hope and inspiration by showing them that we have come a long way on issues of race and other social justice issues by pushing for legislation, educating people and taking action. At the same time, it is also important that we connect the dots so that young people understand that issues such as school segregation, racial disparities in the criminal justice system and voting rights are not individual acts but are part of a larger system and that if societal change is going to take place, the solutions also need to be systemic.

Activism makes a difference

Since the murders last week, there have been protests across the country and in Charleston and Columbia, SC specifically calling public officials to take down the Confederate flag as a first step. On Sunday, in a moving demonstration of empathy and connection, church bells across Charleston tolled for nine minutes to symbolize the nine victims. We know that our nation has a long history of activism that has brought about significant social change–from marriage equality to immigration reform and the recent “Black Lives Matter” movement. One of the most important principles we can convey to our children is that their voices and actions make a difference and will help to build a better world.

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July 29, 2014

Embracing Technology, Challenging Cyberbullying

If you have been reviewing any number of parenting or education blogs lately, you’ll see headlines proclaiming the menace and dangers of technology.  Technology, and more specifically, social media and mobile apps are often treated like “monsters” to guard against and the creators of all matter of social ills.  Even if technology is scary and daunting to some adults, for youth it is a necessary and positive part of life.  In addition to using technology for homework and research, teens use technology as a part of an active and complex social life. Of youth  12-18 years old, 78% have cellphones and 74% are mobile internet users.

Family taking picture with mobile phone (iStock_000041774914)

That is not to say that there are not valid issues and concerns related to technology. Disrespect, bullying and bias are all experiences which still exist for youth, and technology adds different modalities for it to spread.  From our vantage point,the real menace in our society is ignorance and apathy, and adults can slay the metaphoric monster with education and empathy-building.

Being thoughtful, kind, using humor in good ways and developing skills to be an effective ally are all socializing opportunities and hold valuable lessons for youth. Adults have the opportunity to explore, learn alongside and guide youth to utilize technology and social media sites in respectful and positive ways, teaching youth to be an active part of creating an inclusive online world as well as behaving in ways to keep themselves safe.

Educating youth about online behavior is not just about “bully-proofing” them; it’s about doing your part so that your young person isn’t the aggressor or a bystander in acts of cyber cruelty or cyberbullying.   Here are some ideas to cultivate online ally behavior for youth in your life:

  •  Adopt a positive attitude about technology and social media. The overwhelming majority of youth are utilizing technology in positive ways. If you always speak negatively about this aspect of their life, you are dismissing an important aspect of their life.
  •  Show humility if you are unsure about how something works online. Ask questions that broaden your understanding and don’t verbalize any judgments when you are learning.  Consider appointing or hiring a “youth guru” to fill you in on the latest and greatest apps and social media sites. Or stay connected with our Grown Folks Guide to Popular Apps in Social Media.
  •  Ask more questions, use lectures sparingly. For example: Why do you think some people think its ok to make jokes about someone’s race or religion? What kind of place does the internet become if no one cares about  the words they choose?
  •  When you see biased online stereotyping, jokes, memes or videos online- discuss them openly. Anti-bias education with youth requires ongoing discussion. You don’t have to have all of the answers, but one important lesson can be made clear: it’s not ok.
  • Regularly share examples of youth standing up and being allies. The message you send is “I love this behavior, and I want to see this from you.”
  • Teach youth that reporting is not the same as “snitching.” Many youth understand that hurtful comments and posts are the wrong thing to do, but many youth believe “snitching” is worse. Helping youth to understand that reporting hurtful comments, and especially threatening comments, is an integral part of creating safe spaces online. ADL’s Cyber-Safety Action Guide can help you navigate how to report concerns to service providers.

For more resources on how to prevent and intervene in bullying and cyberbullying, internet guidelines, and information on cyberbullying warning signs- visit our Families and Caregiver Resources List.



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