Every time we turn on the television, visit a news website, or even glance at a newspaper headline in the supermarket checkout line, we’re faced with yet another act of bigotry and hate. Some of the most recent headlines that come to mind are:
- One shooter guns down dozens in a gay nightclub in Orlando
- Another kills African-American parishioners in Charleston, South Carolina during a Bible study at their church
- A car driven by a man with alleged white supremacist ties drives into protesters at an anti-hate rally, killing one woman and injuring others
How do parents, especially those in LGBT and same-sex families, talk to their children about these senseless acts of violence? Our natural instinct is keep them in a little cocoon and protect them from the ugliness of the world, but in the Age of Information this is practically impossible. We also have to accept that even if we aren’t talking to our kids about homophobia, bigotry, and violence, their friends and older peers certainly are.
Here are four tips for discussing these difficult subjects and helping our children better understand the world in which we live without instilling fear or eroding confidence.
- Be Proactive
While it’s perfectly reasonable to want to shield your children from news that can upset them, remember that social media and the Internet have made this an almost impossible job. As parents, we should make sure that they get such information in an age-appropriate manner.
Start by asking them what they’re hearing about a particular event at school and then discussing their feelings about it. It is important to lead by example too. Speak out against prejudice, stereotypes, and violence, and embrace diversity. When children get guidance on such subjects at home, they’re not as quick to turn to their friends or social media to form an opinion.
- Make All Discussions Age-Appropriate
Even young children will likely hear about what’s happening in the world today, but they may not be ready to fully understand the details. When you talk to them, don’t give them more than they can safely handle at their age.
If your son is five years old, for example, you might say things like, “Some people have a hard time caring about others and will do things that really hurt other people.” When he is older, he may then want or need reassurances that he will be safe. It’s fine to be honest and admit that you may be scared too, especially if yours is a non-traditional family, but tell him that you will do everything in your power to keep him safe.
- Ask and Answer Questions
Older children in particular should be encouraged to have their own reactions, so you can then have an open a discussion about what they think and how these events make them feel. During these conversations, we can proceed to both address these feelings and fill in any knowledge gaps that might otherwise cause them to form harmful opinions. Here is a link to a great list of books for children that tackle these complex subjects in a way that children can understand.
- Show Them How They Can Affect Change
Children can feel more powerful and less frightened when you make them feel like they can be a part of change. Unless such an activity is not age-appropriate, expose them to events that celebrate diversity, and combat hatred and bigotry. Ensure that your own social group is diverse, and demonstrate respect for all people in your own words and actions (as they will learn most of all by your example), then help them meet and interact with peers their own age who come from different backgrounds.
Other things you can encourage them to do are:
- Join multicultural and LGBT-positive organizations at school
- Stand up when they see acts of racism and homophobia among their peers—even young children can alert an adult if they see something
To limit anxieties, end these conversations on a positive note. Increased awareness of social issues is a good thing, as it can strengthen communities and serve as the impetus for change— change that your son or daughter may currently or one day be an important part of.
At Haas Tharrington, P.A., we embrace the fact that people and their families come in a wide range of different forms, and every person deserves to feel safe and secure. That is why we are proud to offer dedicated and effective legal solutions to LGBT individuals, same-sex couples, and people of diverse cultural and social backgrounds. If you have questions, concerns, or a situation that requires legal assistance, please contact us today.