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Talking to Kids About Racism, Violence, and the Charleston Shooting

The recent violence in Charleston, South Carolina, is the latest of many incidents that demonstrate blatant and horrific acts resulting from racism that’s likely rooted in the killer’s childhood. While racism, mental illness, and gun laws dominate many conversations in the aftermath, my mind tends to reach further: What messages do children receive that contribute to developing a mindset like Dylann Roof’s? What is within our control as parents and educators in preventing our children from becoming racists driven to violence?

As one article points out, a parent’s instinct is often to shield kids from the facts, especially when there’s a hate-based component. But experts advise tamping down panic by focusing on what’s most important to children: their own sense of security in the world. And they suggest that making discrimination an ongoing dialogue with your children is key.

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, which works to promote and protect civil and human rights in the U.S., has developed a publication to help parents address racial issues in an effort to eliminate racism in future generations.

“Unfortunately, it is not enough to set a good example. Nor can we shield children from bigotry,” the Leadership Conference states. “A society that continues to discriminate against racial and ethnic groups nurtures prejudice in each new generation. If we avoid these subjects with our children, we actually run the risk of strengthening prejudices we want them to reject.”

Please offer any of your ideas or experiences around how to effectively address these issues with children in the comments below.

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Deanna Glick

Deanna Glick has spent two decades as a writer and editor, covering education policy, adoption, and other issues of interest to children and families. Deanna has also worked and volunteered for youth-focused nonprofits, including Students Run LA and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. A California native, Deanna loves to hike sections of the Appalachian Trail and spend time on the Shenandoah River near her Northern Virginia home. She often finds writing inspiration through her 8-year-old daughter, who loves to read, paint, play sports, and learn.

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