Healthy Conversations Between Parents and Youth of Color

Having honest and uncomfortable conversations is a healthy part of growing up. There are some conversations, however, that parents may wish they never had to have with young children or teens. For example, many parents of black and brown children anticipate talking to them about how they could be treated in our world today based on the color of their skin. If you are one of those parents, you may feel an added pressure to protect and prepare your child for racism in ways a white parent with a white child does not experience. However, it is helpful for parents from all backgrounds to discuss disparities, race, and culture with their youth regularly.

Like your child, someone may have had to guide you through these heavy realities yourself or you became aware through your own experiences. Unfortunately, your prior knowledge may not make it any easier to approach your child especially when you are dealing with your own pain as a result. The topics you choose to explore with them will likely depend on their age and developmental stage (refer to WebMD article). You may feel the burden of explaining to them their legal rights or where to put their hands when stopped by police. You will likely find it necessary to teach them about discrimination and its impact on the education system and the workforce. It’s painful to tell your teen that they could be judged by their hairstyle or followed around in a department store simply due to the way they look.

Children are perceptive and may already be conscious of their surroundings based on what they’ve encountered in a school or neighborhood setting. They might have come across certain content on their social media feeds or the news. In fact, research shows that children as early as ages 2 and 3 are starting to make connections about race and appearance. As you talk with your child, they may display a variety of thoughts and feelings including fear, anger, apathy, confusion, and anxiety. As a result, you may be feeling an array of your own emotions as you sit with them and help to process the world around them. All of these emotions are normal and should be validated. Learning how to support them in the midst of these difficult times is no small or easy task.

Despite how these disparities may shape the way they see themselves, it’s important to also remind them of the many reasons to take pride in their history and black identity. The black community is made up of all kinds of different people with all kinds of traits, interests, and backgrounds to be celebrated. Now, more than ever, young people need to be encouraged to have hope for their future and believe that they can make a difference.

At Middle Earth, we want to continue to do our part to help uplift and empower our clients to become productive adults. This means that we take a very active and personal approach with our youth. We seek to advocate for them when it seems they are not being treated fairly. We prioritize training our staff intensely in trauma-informed care as well as diversity and inclusion. This is not to say that we will always get it right, but we are here to help. We would love to support you in any way you can. If you do not live in New Jersey, research local youth development nonprofits in your area who can help.

And in these challenging times, we give you much credit for all the ways you are showing up for your children even when it includes these difficult and real conversations.

This article was generously written by a guest author. Olivia Ajiake is a staff member at Middle Earth. She is a graduate of Rutgers University with her Masters in Social Work, and is currently finishing up her LSW certification. Though originally from California, Olivia enjoys calling New Jersey her new home. She is passionate about working with youth to help them reach their goals. 

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