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Want to be honest with your kids about racism? These tips can help.

A country already buffeted by the COVID-19 outbreak has roiled even further in recent weeks as protests have erupted after the killing of an African American man, George Floyd, by a Minneapolis police officer.

These demonstrations have pushed the reality of racial injustice to the forefront. Parents are facing uncomfortable questions from their kids, and these queries have no easy answers.

Ohio State School of Communication lecturers Kristie Sigler and Mary Sterenberg recently published a blog post that offered advice on how to broach this difficult topic. Below are six tips they shared about opening a discussion with teens and tweens about racism.

  1. Start the conversation.

    This seems pretty basic, but it's often the most difficult step. There's never going to be a perfect time or a right age. People of color don't have the privilege of deciding the best time to have these conversations because it's part of their everyday reality. Take a deep breath, and open lines of communication with your kids. 

  2. Be honest and available.

    Racism is an emotionally charged issue, and it’s not easy to talk about. Admit that you don't have all the answers, and remember there's no right way to have these conversations. Remind your tween or teen that you're a safe place to ask hard questions and wrestle with difficult situations.

  3. Use books and movies to start and guide conversation.

    Rich conversations are possible when books and movies are the starting point. Here are a few recommendations to help start the discussion:

  1. Watch news coverage together.

    This can be difficult, but it’s important. Watching together provides more information about what your kids are taking in and the specific things they might see or hear that you want to address.

    Jenny Radesky, a developmental behavioral pediatrician and professor, recently wrote in MSN News that, “White and non-black families should not shield their older children from these images. We need to engage our children in a conversation about racism, and use these events as a catalyst. While it is upsetting to watch, we need to sit with that discomfort and teach our families how to channel that energy to work to dismantle the racist structures that exist in our communities.”

  2. Take action.

    Nobody likes feeling helpless, and encouraging tweens and teens to take action is a positive and healthy way to cope. Doing something for others can help kids feel connected and give them ways to contribute to the world – two important building blocks of resilient kids.

    This list of 100 ways you can take action against racism provides a compilation of immediate action items. It includes suggestions and links for contacting state and local leaders, signing petitions, donating to nonprofit organizations, providing resources for protestors and local communities, volunteering and supporting black-owned businesses. Spend time reviewing the list with your kids and then take action together. Better yet, let them take the lead and decide what to do.

  3. Continue the conversation.

    Like everything else in life that really matters, the commitment needs to be ongoing. Check in with your kids and continue having conversations about racism. It's important to recognize our privilege here as well. People of color don't get to set these realities aside for a more preferable or convenient time.