Why do so many parents avoid talking about racism?

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The difficulty of talking about racism with children

All too often, children are given less information than they deserve when it comes to complex phenomena, such as how a virus such as spreads. Covid-19 or how to deal with deeply painful social issues like racism. If you are a parent who struggles to talk about racism with children, you are certainly not the only one.

"Parents generally fear they don't have all the answers but they really don't," she says Judith Scott, assistant professor at Boston University School of Social Work, whose research focuses on how parents can prepare children to cope with racial discrimination and how families and peers convey messages about identity and culture to children.

In this article

  • When do children begin to understand racism? 
  • One can start talking about racism even with children under 5
  • Positive examples help to better understand racism and to fight it
Read also: How to educate children not to be racist

When do children begin to understand racism?

Adults avoid conversations with their children about racism for a variety of reasons: from feeling unskilled or uncomfortable, or as if they don't know enough. A recent study by Boston University researchers published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology finds there may be another reason why parents avoid talking about racism with the children: adults assume that children are too young to understand races and racism.

The new data suggests that most adults in the United States have false perceptions of how and when children learn about different races, he says. Evan apple tree, Boston University social psychologist and Questrom School of Business associate professor of management and organizations, study co-author with assistant professors Leigh Wilton and Jessica Sullivan, social and development psychologists at Skidmore College.

To understand the assumptions of adults on when children begin to understand racism, the study authors asked a demographically representative sample of basic questions from U.S. adults about developmental milestones in childhood, children's elaboration of the concept of racism and what factors affect their ability to talk about racial differences. On average, participants were about 4 and a half years late when asked when they think children start developing this concept, which can start as early as a year. The data suggests that this misunderstanding was the main reason adults didn't want to talk about racism with children, even with respect to other personal reasons, such as feeling uncomfortable or afraid of conveying misconceptions about racism.

"I wouldn't say that's the only reason," he says apple tree. "But it's a surprisingly important factor." Following the survey, participants took part in a quick science lesson on child development and racial differences. And after class, most people were more willing to talk about racism with children, perhaps because they were more confident the children could handle it.

Read also: Children and integration: all the advice to parents to promote it

One can start talking about racism even with children under 5

In their article, apple tree and other authors note that past research has found that young children and children under the age of 5 can understand messages and ideas about racism, while six-month-old babies may notice differences in skin color. At age 5, children begin to associate racial characteristics with traits, stereotypes and social status and begin to internalize messages about racial differences they have inferred from adults and the people around them.

"There were little kids, 4 years old, who came up to me and asked me, '' Why are you brown and I'm white? '" Scott explains. And in those situations "the parents go crazy," he says, "because parents automatically associate the issue of race with racism ".

With the recent protests against the police brutality, systemic racism and racial injustice occurring across the country ever since George floyd was killed, Scott and Apfelbaum both agree that now is the best time ever to speak honestly about racism, since young people are talking and sharing this information on social media with their peers.

Even if the children are a little older, there is still time for parents and educators for start talking about racism. "There is work to be done first, but children are starting to develop a more sophisticated understanding of injustice and inequality in society and how their actions will be perceived by others around age 10," says Apfelbaum.

"Children understand the nature of injustice", Continues Scott." And I think this is a way to start having conversations about racism with them. "

Read also: Montessori, 5 tips to encourage inclusion in multicultural contexts

Positive examples help to better understand racism and to fight it

The Netflix science fiction series "Raising Dion" is a prime example of why some parents have to start talking about racismsays Scott, because in one episode, Dion - who is a young black boy with superpowers - is distressed after being discriminated against at school and his mother has to talk to him about racism for the first time. It is important to keep in mind that the reasons for introducing these conversations differ; they could be triggered by an event seen on the news, by moments when children hear about problems racism in school or they experience it themselves racial discrimination, or talk about racism with peers. Scott found out in researching him that the context is crucial when families decide how to talk about race and racism when problems or questions arise, as every situation and child is different.

In general, when it comes to engaging children and teenagers in conversations about racism, Scott emphasizes the use of power of stories and positive examples.

"It is important for children to understand that society is trying to do something about it, and people are fighting the battle, ”says Scott.

"As children grow up, the information we parents give them about race and racism has a different meaning to them due to different stages of development or their experiences, so whether your child is 12 or 14 and the last conversation you had about racism was when they were 8, that's not enough, ”says Scott. Contribute with small actions, making signs, drawing messages or drawing positive images on the sidewalk, or even participating in virtual events, are ways that allow children to work against racism.

"For parents of color, people who have had bad experiences, it's important - after these conversations - to take care of themselves," says Scott. "It is right to take the time to talk about these things when you are emotionally ready, and only if you are ready. "

Source for this article:

Eurek Alert! Why do so many parents avoid talking about race? 

Read also: How to educate children for diversity

  • racial prejudice
  • integration
  • children education
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