It can be difficult to find the right time to teach children about challenging topics, but as parents, we are responsible for providing the appropriate lens to best explain how to understand the inequities within our society. As children get older they will likely start to remember historical events or the sentiment of speeches they have heard without fully absorbing the nuances surrounding the context. Children inherently understand that acts of racism are unjust even if they do not have the means to process why. Even from a very young age, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. knew that the treatment of African-Americans in this country was wrong and he used his words to strengthen the resolve of those willing to stand up for equality.
As parents, we should choose to be proactive in advocating that our children pursue change by enacting change.
As parents, we continually reinforce that our children should be kind by helping others, stand up for those being bullied, and treat each other the same way they expect to be treated.
As parents, we talk to our children about gun safety, street smarts, and stranger danger; but why don’t we talk about the reality of racism as it currently stands? It is no less an issue than guns or drugs or e-cigarettes, yet we tend to overlook moments of family members and friends perpetuating racial stereotypes or jokingly “belittling” others based on our differences.
I remember sitting in my 8th-grade classroom as the teacher turned on a radio to listen to the events unfolding on September 11th, 2001. My classmates and I began to ask what was happening and her response was very matter-of-fact as she said there will always be people in the world seeking harm against us for our freedom. I’ve often thought of that moment over the years and again as I’ve watched the news coverage of more recent tragedies such as the racially motivated attacks that occurred in houses of worship in Charleston and Pittsburgh.
The sentiment is there, but it just isn’t enough. We can do better by reinforcing the values of unity and tolerance in our daily practices.
Simply put, our children are looking to us every day to see how we treat those around us. They hear when you say please or thank you to the cashier at the grocery store and they hold the door open for others because they see your kindness in action. And if your child is anything like mine, they also hear your order in the Starbucks drive-through line and coyly reiterate it to their father that evening so they can joke about how mama needed to get coffee, again. They also hear you scolding the dog for barking at the birds outside and waking up the baby for the 3rd time that morning. When my husband and I heard my son reprimanding our dog as we had done before, we both just looked at each other and explained that we shouldn’t talk like that and neither should he. We’re certainly not perfect, but we try to make each day better.
My son is still quite young to understand the historical significance of Dr. King’s testament to this country, but he bears witness to the good that unity brings every single day. Just the other day we sat down together to eat lunch and I quickly switched on the news to watch the coverage of former President George H.W. Bush’s funeral procession. As the ceremony outside of Capitol Hill began, the camera panned to a shot of varying service members in military dress stand guard on the steps. My son commented on how everybody looked different and I immediately began to explain that of course people have different skin colors, hair colors, and height. As I continued my tangent he stopped me and said, “No, mama, they are all wearing different uniforms.” This reminded me that we, as parents, are the ones that create the lens for how our children view the world.
We can do better to ensure that the world is better for them.