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June 22, 2015 1

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 0

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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