Black Lives Matter and Children
Updated: Oct 2, 2020
June 7, 2020
I took my children to a Black Lives Matter protest the other day. This is the conversation we had prior to attending.
Me: A lot of people are protesting right now.
Me: A police officer killed someone.
Kids: How did the police officer kill the person?
Me: He put his knee on the man’s neck while the man was on the ground handcuffed.
Kids: Why would he do that?
Me: The man was black and police officers don’t treat black people fairly. This is not the first time this has happened. A lot of black people have been killed by police officers.
Me: So we’re going to the protest to support black people.
Kid 1: I don’t want to go to the protest. I’m afraid.
Me: Being brave doesn’t mean you’re not afraid, it means you’re afraid and you do it anyway.
Kid 1: I still don’t want to go.
Me: We need to support people who are afraid all the time and don’t have a choice.
Kid 2: Why are they afraid?
Me: They’re afraid that the police might hurt them, too. They don’t feel safe anywhere.
Kid 2: I want to go!
Kid 1: (Reluctantly agrees to go.)
We were at the protest very briefly until Kid 1 felt overwhelmed by the noise and the crowd and wanted to go home.
Children are by nature self-centered. If something is happening in the world that doesn’t affect them directly, they simply don’t care. I see this attitude in many adults, too. I always thought of it as selfishness, but maybe it’s actually immaturity. A mature person sees how we are all connected and cannot be satisfied living in his own bubble without a thought about others because he is curious and compassionate.
I was in the car with my older son when a Hidden Brain podcast episode came on discussing racial health disparities. The average expected life span of black men was already 4 years less than that of white men and now black people have been dying of coronavirus at disproportionate rates. I asked my son if he understood. He said he did, but I know I need to go back and explain it to him in careful detail.
How to get children to feel compassion for others and move toward societal change? I don’t have the answer. I’m doing what I usually do, which is taking things one step at a time: one conversation, one protest, one podcast. Like any tough subject matter with children, circumstances arise which lead to a conversation and parents should be ready. We need to model doing necessary and important things that make us feel uncomfortable for our children.