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Kids to parents: “Ask us how to talk about difficult topics like race and religion”

Written by Jen Cort

Meera Vijayann |

Events such as the mass shooting in California and riots in Baltimore have lead to conversations about religious discrimination and racism. Parents often find themselves wanting to either shield their children from these conversations or they are uncertain where to begin. Believing the very best solutions to problems come from kids, I asked middle and upper school girls at St. Paul’s School for Girls to provide advice for their parents on broaching these challenging topics. Here is some of what they shared:

Middle School students say, please…

  1. Ask questions about our thoughts and really listen for the answers
  2. Share rather than impose your opinion
  3. Avoid lecturing
  4. Give an option for us to talk or not to talk
  5. Assure us we won’t be in trouble if we have different opinions than you
  6. Talk about these things regularly, not just when an issue comes up or you get a letter from school
  7. Understand prejudice comes from not understanding and we want to understand
  8. Ask questions such as “What do you think diversity is?”
  9. Don’t speak at us, it shuts us down
  10. Help us avoid a “loyalty conflict” by not be overly opposed to what we learn at school
  11. Expect us to have a lack of judgment
  12. Set-up at time to talk about big topics ahead of time to avoid over stressing us
  13. Don’t force the topic but also don’t let us opt out of hard conversations
  14. Ask us how to talk about difficult topics in the future
  15. Know that respecting your opinion does not mean we have to have the same opinion

Upper School students say, please…

  1. Don’t impose your views on us
  2. Know we need support to help us discover who we are so we can have a strong belief system supported by parents even if it is different than what you want us to be
  3. Talk regularly about these issues not just when something happens so we know how to react. This will help us reduce anxiety when things happen
  4. Understand, we are finding our true selves and if we aren’t who you think or expect us to be, don’t judge us… just assume we are discovering
  5. Don’t assume our friends are our primary influence in who we will become
  6. Know that if you overreact we won’t feel we can share with you, especially after a bad day
  7. Believe we know you want the best for us and we are often surprised by how we are changing so don’t freak out
  8. Let us know you are open to listening to us
  9. Tell us you know things are not as they were when you were in high school
  10. Don’t shelter us from knowing things it leads to prejudice and stereotypes because we have to learn everything from media, friends and rumors
  11. Trust that we can teach you too
  12. Expose us to your ideas and thoughts
  13. Believe us, we know we need to do our part to develop our relationships with you
  14. Trust us

As you can see from most of the comments, there isn’t a roadmap for such conversations but there are necessary components including listening, remaining free of judgment and talking frequently. I am grateful for the girls and faculty at SPSG who welcoming me into their community and partnering with me on the important work of deepening their relationship to the many topics of diversity.

Bio: Jen Cort’s educational passion is creating safe spaces for kids to be seen and heard at all times while learning to use their voices and be visible in ways that work for them. She is able to help schools in this work through her years of experience as a Division Head of an independent school clinical social worker, school counselor and author. Jen is also an Ashoka Empathy Ambassador. You could read more about her work on her website.

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