Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be… white supremacists.
With all the talk lately around Black lives and systematic oppression and what’s fair and right in this world, it only makes sense that we as white parents consider the ways our children could mess up—and how we can keep that from happening.
You’re probably feeling frustrated. You might feel disconnected from a larger movement because you don’t want to take your kids to a protest. (We’re in a pandemic—it’s OK to have those thoughts.).You might feel isolated in your family unit, with some difficult conversations bubbling up about national events. You might even have some people in your inner circle you don’t get along with.
But the current state of affairs—being tied to our houses and barely coming into contact with anyone we’re not related to—is a uniquely perfect opportunity to evaluate how our kids are being exposed to messages of racism. It’s also a great time to analyze our own family dynamics and look for patterns that can reinforce white supremacy down the road.
Wait, dynamics within a family can have larger implications within society? Yes. But I’ll get to that in a minute.
Check Your Screen Time: You’ve probably talked with your kids about what to do if they get a message from a stranger online, or if they see a sexually graphic video or feel like they’re being bullied. (If you haven’t started having these talks, please start. They’ve probably seen this stuff already.)
That said, have you talked about how race is represented online? Specifically, have you talked to your children—who are probably spending at least an hour or two a day on some sort of digital device—about videos promoting racism or violence against others based on race? With everything that’s happening in the news lately, your kids are going to see a lot of videos on the subject. You probably don’t want that TikTok video to be the first discussion about race that your child hears, because it’s going to have an influence on them.
For many kids—in particular, white kids—these videos and online chats are the first time they’re having a discussion about race that include whiteness. If parents begin a basic discussion of right and wrong, it will help frame future content that our kids may see online, says Shannon Martinez, an Athens resident and senior consultant with PERIL at American University. PERIL—Polarization and Extremism Research and Innovation Lab—connects research with practical intervention methods to combat extremism, particularly among youth.
I know it’s cringey when we, as parents, talk to our kids about a trending video on TikTok. But by helping to define what’s right and what’s wrong, we give kids a framework to view content we can’t police. “They become aware of it,” says Martinez, an expert in white supremacy tactics. Even something as simple as explaining basic marketing techniques can help lead them away from a potential rabbit hole to racist content.
Talk to your kids about where videos come from and ways to learn more facts about a situation. “If we’re looking at messages from white supremacists, how do we identify that?” asks Martinez. “Or, if we’re looking at misinformation, how do we identify misinformation? We verify sources or cross-check information.”
Get Your House in Order: How about when your kids aren’t staring at a screen? This is where family dynamics come into play here. “Your family is your child’s first introduction to community. So, in what community do you want them to live?” asks Martinez. “Is it equitable and just, where their voice is heard? Or, are their needs valued?”
Something as simple as chores can play a role here. You can pay kids to do chores—or, they can do chores because they are expected to do them as a member of the household, and by taking part in the upkeep of the house, it lessens the burdens for others. In other words, you’re teaching equity without even leaving the house.
Martinez makes another point: Often parents say we want to raise our kids to be independent. But that’s not exactly what happens—we’re all dependent on other people, whether it’s for a job or for cooking a meal or for following simple traffic rules. So, instead of focusing on independence, she says, we should focus on healthy interdependence.
“We want our kids to grow up and be in healthy relationships with solid communication and emotional skills and tools,” says Martinez. “So, how does that change how we parent? How does that change our values? How does that inspire our values to give up some of the real or perceived privileges we have to make sure others are elevated among us?”
What does this mean in practice? It means we need to go beyond providing food, shelter and clothing. We need to be sure that our children can give love and be loved, can see and be seen and feel a meaningful connection to something bigger than themselves, says Martinez.
She’s the expert, but here’s how I view this: Give your kids space to be both gentle and rambunctious. Don’t blow off what your kids say by falling for the old trope of, “Those kids today.” They know a lot more than you think. Consider what it takes to help everyone in your family thrive—and this includes moms, who are too often shouldering housework during all this at-home time.
If you frame your family dynamic around everyone feeling loved and having the ability to give love, you’re already on your way down the path to a better future for us all.
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