How to Talk About Racism with Your Teen

It’s likely that your teen’s social media feeds are currently flooded with news about race, protests, and racial injustice, as Gen Z is highly conscious of the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s also likely that as a parent of a teen, you are wondering how to talk about current events with your child. For Black families and people of color, the conversation about racism isn’t necessarily new — it may start at a young age and is often a foundational part of growing up. For others, the current moment is a turning point for education and starting a conversation that hasn’t yet been explored closely. Regardless of your family’s background, here are eight tips on how to bring the conversation into your household.

Ask your teen about what they’ve seen, read and experienced.

A great way to initiate discussion is to understand your teen’s baseline knowledge of the issues. What do they think about the news? What has resonated with them on social media? I dunno can be a common teen response, as developmental behavioral pediatrician Dr. Jenny Radesky told CNN, so try asking your teen about types of racial injustice and unfair treatment they’ve witnessed or experienced in their own lives — and how they felt about it.

Be willing to learn from your teen and admit shortcomings in your own knowledge.

Your teen may raise topics that are outside your scope of familiarity — resist the temptation to shut down or shy away. Instead, model open-mindedness. Admit when you don’t always have the answer to show your teen that you’re human, and willing to expand your scope of awareness. Acknowledging that no one is perfect is a good first step toward becoming an antiracist, which involves confronting inconvenient and uncomfortable truths.

Educate and prepare yourself for discussions on race.

Embrace Race, The Center for Racial Justice and the American Psychological Association offer resources to guide parents’ talking points on race, while The Parents Coalition proposes a framework that includes video links and discussion topics. Resources designed for educators serve as another helpful jumping-off point for parent-teen discussions. Check out these from The USC Rossier School of Education and Education Week.

Find opportunities for you and your teen to educate yourselves together.

Seek out TV shows and movies about Black experiences in America to watch and discuss. Or try starting a parent-teen book club — Common Sense Media rounds up a list of books about Black characters that includes suggested age ranges for readers.

Be a model of the values, attitudes, and behaviors you wish to see your teen adopt.

It’s important to talk about the value of embracing social differences — but teens are more influenced by your actions than your words. Dr. Nia Heard-Garris, Chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Minority Health, Equity and Inclusion Committee, says that parents must examine their own feelings on systemic racism to get through to their teens. “The best advice I can give parents is to be models for the attitudes, behavior, and values that they wish to see in their children,” she told the Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.

Emphasize the ways that you and your teen can take action.

When young people know that their voices can make a difference, they are empowered to advocate against injustice. Many teens are already engaged in online activism around current events. Encourage their advocacy and join them in whatever way is right for you. There are many ways to support the cause: signing petitions, joining protests, donating money and supplies, raising community awareness, posting signs, contacting local and state officials, supporting black-owned businesses and beyond.

Empower your teen to speak up against racism in their conversations with friends and others.

Encourage your teen to have the confidence and courage to use their voice against racism wherever it pops up around them — even if the source is one of their friends. Amnesty International suggests steps to tell someone you love they’re being racist, including:

  • Use “I” statements to tell your loved one how their comment made you feel.
  • Pull the person aside and talk one-on-one to have a meaningful conversation.
  • Use empathetic appeals to help your friend imagine the challenges other groups face.

Keep talking.

Racism is the result of hundreds of years of systemic discrimination and won’t be undone overnight. “Talking about this early and often is really important,” says Dr. Heard-Garris. “It’s an ongoing conversation. It should not be a one-off. To really get to that better world, that more equitable world, we need to strive to be anti-racist.”

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