5 Things To Remember When Talking With Our Children About Discrimination
*Note: This is a part 2 of my first blog about the recent LGBTQ Discrimination Bill*
For all the young people in the lone-star state, my eyes are weary and my heart hurts.
My heart hurts because their teachers may not know what to say to them when asked questions about politics.
My heart hurts because their parents may avoid talking with them about this for fear of saying the wrong thing.
My heart hurts because many young people are questioning their sexuality and now they feel even more alone.
My heart hurts because many young people are likely wondering what all these changes mean, but they may not get answers.
My heart hurts because children under state custody have parents waiting to love them, but bigotry beat them down.
My heart hurts because they are more alone today than they were yesterday.
My heart hurts because adults with wounds and insecurities from their own pasts are dictating life-trajectories.
My heart hurts because people in power feel threatened by “the other”, and their power is a weapon
My heart hurts because those very adults were once children in the very system of education I support.
One could say that the education system created this monstrous mess, and now the next generation might have to suffer.
Here’s the thing: those in vulnerable or marginalized communities don’t need a reminder that the system doesn’t work for them.
And, parents and educators:
We can’t turn our heads and ignore the fact that our children are watching and absorbing the news.
They are not exempt of experiencing the noise.
Policies and practices are reinforcing discrimination, and it’s not okay.
In Part 1, I mentioned that typically people refer to bullying experiences with regards to these three positions: the victim, the perpetrator, and the bystander.
But what I (and many educators in my circle) tell my students is a little more nuanced.
Here’s the visual again to helps us understand the different roles in bullying situations:
Whichever side of the aisle you stand on (democrat/republican, liberal/conservative, advantaged/disadvantaged), it’s all of our responsibility to speak up and not just witness what’s unfolding before our eyes.
So, Here Are 5 Important Reminders When Talking to Our Children
The S.P.A.R.K. acronym helps us approach situations through a diversity/inclusion lens. Here are 5 important reminders when approaching conversations with young people:
Show up authentically and with love.
It’s okay to be honest and vulnerable with our kids. It’s okay to say “I don’t know” or “I’m sad” or “I’m confused”. In fact, sharing those honest things with love and transparency inherently gives our children permission to do the same. Which is important.
Pause. Listen with fearlessness and intentionality.
It’s important that we slow down, listen with fearlessness, and reflect on our intentions before talking with our young people.
When we listen to our children with empathy and intentionality, we become more compassionate and understanding of their experience.
Try to imagine what it must be like for them to hear their classmates say hurtful things.
Listen to what’s underneath the content of their words. Notice their body language.
Think about how you want them to experience us.
Ask. Don’t assume. Show courageous curiosity rather than certainty.
Neuroscience suggests that we are wired to be oriented towards our tribe, YET we’re also wired to be curious about those who live different lives than us.
Our children need to witness us showing curiosity before making assumptions about other people’s’ experiences.
Especially when we’re talking about and exploring diverse perspectives.
Respect multiple perspectives and see one another as equals
Multiple perspectives allow for richer, more textured experiences.
Seeking out spaces that include ALL voices (race, gender, sexual orientation, generation, ethnicity, class, etc.) is a critical attribute of S.P.A.R.K.
Kindly expect tension. Create space for vulnerability.
Change and transitions involve emotions, and emotions are not expressed or experienced in the same way for everyone.
If we really want to our kids to feel safe being vulnerable, then we must model that vulnerability.
There’s no silver-bullet for complex conversations that involve emotions.
In case it’s helpful here are some sentence stems and questions you can keep in your back pocket for each of the 5 letters in S.P.A.R.K.
SENTENCE STEMS / QUESTIONS:
Show Up With Authenticity and With Love.
• Hey, I want to share something that I saw on the news I’m concerned about. It made me feel__
Pause. Prepare, Set intentions, and Listen.
* Reflect before the conversation: what do you really want to happen in the conversation? (ie. I want my child to feel heard, I want to convey warmth and empathy, I want my child to feel validated)
Affirm and Ask. Don’t Assume.
• Can you tell me more about what you mean by ___? I want to make sure I’m not assuming___. Did I hear you correctly?
Respect Multiple Perspectives
• I hear you. Can I share a different perspective/observation? I have friends who___and they have a different experience…
Kindly Expect Some Tension
• I’m glad we had this conversation. Even though it maybe wasn’t the easiest thing to talk about and/or may have been a little uncomfortable at times, it’s important that you know that I am here for you. I don’t and won’t always have the answers, but I want you to know I will always listen to you. Can we talk about this again in a few weeks? / Can you make sure to let me know if something happens that you want to talk about? Even if you write me a note or letter, I just want you to know I’m here.
I’ll close by saying this: I’m using the language of bullying above because it’s an accessible comparison. I don’t–by any means–mean to oversimplify something as complex as oppression or generalize bullying experiences. Bullying experiences are excruciatingly painful, and I would never make light of that. I see a direct comparison though (on a systemic level), and want us to easily see our roles and responsibilities in this fight.
At the end of the day, remember these four things: we must be aware and awake–always, we must come together, we must share with one another, and we must move forward–one step and one conversation at a time.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. PLEASE respond below with reactions, reflections, and ideas for forward mobilization…AND PLEASE SHARE THIS WITH FRIENDS/FAMILY.
I can’t do this alone. We need each other’s strength, resilience, conviction, and alliance right now.
Together, we can IGNITE positive shifts for the next generation.
Rachel Rosen is a seasoned facilitator, racial equity leadership coach, LGBTQ advocate, and the Founder of S.P.A.R.K. She is on a mission to bring more empathy to the world, one conversation at a time. With a Masters from Stanford, and extensive training in leadership, coaching, team and organizational development, Rachel brings a perspective that’s grounded in theory and practice.
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