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Advice For Having Conversations About Racism With Children


Shalane Smith-Needham- Over the last few weeks, the Black Lives Matter movement has been gaining momentum across the country with protests happening in every state and even countries around the world. While the information on the movement is all over the internet, how would you have these conversations with children?

Dr. Jonathan Swinton is an associate professor in health, wellness, and family consumer science at Utah State University. What advice do you have for parents having conversations about racism with their children?

Jonathan Swinton - Well, you know, it depends on whether the kids are coming from a majority family or a minority family. If kids fit in the majority, particularly if they're coming from a white family. It's going to be a very different conversation. That conversation should be much more focused on a lot of education and information that needs to really start with the parents. 

Before a parent ought to be having these in-depth conversations, they've got to have some self-discovery. They've got to be brutally honest with themselves and identify what racist tinges of themselves or their personality might exist or their thinking.

As we think about Black Lives Matter, it's helpful for people to consider what are my underlying thoughts? Do I see myself as better than somebody else? Once they've achieved that then they can talk to their kids. They can be brutally honest with them about what's happening, why it's happening, the oppression that has happened to black people for so many centuries.

Another thing that's important to do to help these kids is to help them appreciate why people are so upset. This has built up from generations of oppression and significant strong emotion that's coming forward at a time that there's finally a microphone that can help somebody listen to them. 

If they're coming from a minority family to help their kids from a very young age realize that they're likely to experience racism is wrong and as sad as that sounds, we're in a society where racism is still widespread.

SSN- How does age make a difference when you're having these conversations?

JS- Well, certainly you need to have age-appropriate conversations. If you're talking to a young child, your conversation is going to be very different than talking to a teenager. 

But so many parents are concerned that, they should wait until kids are older to have difficult conversations about race. And the research suggests that it's completely wrong. Talking to kids from a very young age about race is key. And it's key for both the majority and minority groups. 

Racism is a taught behavior. There's a lot of data that shows that much of the racism that exists comes from parents. And so if parents can demonstrate and teach their kids about racism and how to avoid it from a very young age, in the majority groups, we've got a shot of making some progress on this through the next generation.

SSN- Do you have suggestions on where we can go for links to resources on this topic?

JS- I run a website for Utah State University Extension: and on there I’ve got a number of articles and resources available for families as they're trying to explore self-discovery and figure out how they can make a difference on addressing racism.

SSN-  Dr. Swinton an associate professor in health, wellness, and family consumer science at USU. I am sure we will continue this conversation.

Shalayne Smith Needham has worked at Utah Public Radio since 2000 as producer of Access Utah. She graduated from Utah State University in 1997 with a BA in Sociology, emphasis on Criminology. A Logan native, she grew up with an appreciation for the great outdoors and spends her free time photographing the Western landscape and its wildlife.