Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and all those impacted by the recent shootings in Pittsburgh and Louisville. It is devastating to know that so many innocent people have lost their lives to senseless acts of violence.
As parents and caregivers, we have to find the words, yet again, to help our children cope with tragedy. In the year and a half since I joined the Carolina Friends School community, this will be the third time that I have shared resources on how to talk to children about violence and mass shootings. Unfortunately, some of you may not need these resources because you have already committed the recommendations to heart, having had to use them far too frequently than we can truly comprehend.
The most important thing to remember is that you need to respond in the way that is most developmentally appropriate for your child. Our youngest children should be shielded completely from what has happened. Keep them away from media detailing the incidents. For older children, talk with them honestly, allowing them to express their feelings, share your thoughts on the situation, and remind them that you are there to support them. Monitor their emotional state carefully and respond to their emerging needs. The full impact may not be apparent immediately. Finally, try to maintain a normal schedule. This consistency can be reassuring.
The heinous acts committed in the 72 hour period last week are even more devastating because they were committed by men motivated by deeply entrenched hate. As a country, we have seen a rise in public instances of intolerance and prejudice. At CFS, we have been and continue to work to combat this upsurge by confronting instances of bias on campus and teaching our children how to resolve conflict and appreciate the diversity of our community and our world.
The good news is that our children, Generation Z, are the most unbiased generation yet. As a group, they are the most diverse in our nation’s history. They are more likely to have friends with identities different from their own. Unlike previous generations, for them, interacting with peers from a variety of cultures, lifestyles, and beliefs is the norm. This ease in connecting with others has profoundly impacted their attitudes and behaviors for the better. They are more likely to be interested and active in combating prejudice and intolerance.
As we consider these most recent demonstrations of hate, it is striking to note that they were committed by men from earlier generations — less diverse generations, more biased generations. As we continue to focus on how to help our children become even more appreciative of the gifts, accomplishments, and value of being such a diverse nation, I am reminded that we, the adults, have to confront our own prejudices and model the behavior we hope to see in them. Even in a community as mindful of this work as ours, we know that the inequity of the systems around us require persistent attention to how we can impact our community for the better. I ask of myself the same questions we teach our children to examine. Have we examined the ways in which we may exhibit bias, implicitly or explicitly? Do we demonstrate appreciation for those of other backgrounds by consistently interacting with individuals with identities different from our own? Do we talk about diversity issues with our peers? Do we model behaviors that deescalate conflict of all kinds — racial/ethnic, religious, political, etc.? After asking myself these questions, I know I can do more and plan on redoubling my efforts to be better. As you ask yourself these questions, do you see opportunities to do the same?
As we continue to pray for and support those affected by this recent violence, I hope that we will also take the time to reflect on what we, as adults, are doing to shift our attitudes. I am sure that we can all demonstrate more anti-bias behavior and I hope that we will commit to doing so. Our children have already made this critical shift. As we strive to be better examples for and partners with our children in this work, let’s support each other, be accountable to each other, and hold each other in the light.
Resources for Supporting Children After Violence
- The National Association of School Psychologists -- Talking to Children About Violence: Tips for Parents and Teachers
- American Psychological Association – Helping Your Children Manage Distress in the Aftermath of a Shooting
Resources for Overcoming Bias
- Southern Povery Law Center - Ten Ways to Fight Hate: a Community Response Guide
- Psychology Today - Overcoming Racial Implicit Bias and Racial Anxiety
- Harvard’s Project Implicit - Identifying your Implicit Biases
- Parents.com - 7 Tips for Raising Diversity Aware Children
- Friends Council on Education - Statement on Violence in Pittsburgh and Kentucky