The thinking tends to be that racists raise racists. Therefore, if you see yourself as a good person, raising your kids with inclusive morals, you would have no reason to worry that they’d grow up to the be the sort of person who would march with white nationalists in Charlottesville. But it happens.
And in the wake of yet another mass shooting, this time at two New Zealand mosques, parents across the country — and the world — are asking themselves: “What more can we do?” Because not being racist yourself is not enough to stop the spread of white supremacy.
With social media and the internet readily available to most kids by the time they’re teenagers (and often much earlier), you can’t simply model good values. White supremacists spread their messages via YouTube and social media and recruit kids slowly and subtly through online multiplayer video games.
It’s not realistic to think we can stay one step ahead of our kids with their access to technology. They can get around our parental controls, our trackers and monitors. They are subjected to online algorithms we can’t control. It’s almost a guarantee that they will be exposed to hate speech, hate symbols and extremist views, both online and in real life, by the time they’re in high school.
To combat it, Jinnie Spiegler, director of curriculum and training with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), says we need to teach them about it.
Start early with messages of diversity and inclusion
We’re not going to sit our kids down as teenagers and say, “So, listen; there’s this awful thing called ‘white supremacy’…” without ever having had a conversation with them about race, ethnicity or diversity. Those discussions need to start much earlier.
As early as 3 or 4 years old, you can use children’s books, TV shows and everyday experiences to talk about identity, race and the importance of including people of all colours and backgrounds into our lives.
Then, by the time your kids are 8 or 9 years old, you can dive deeper into the history of racism, religious bigotry and intimidation. Talk about examples of these not just from the distance past but from current events, as well, so they can become aware of its existence and able to identify it on their own.
Confront and interrupt bias and hate
Perhaps the worst thing we can do, Spiegler says, is to ignore bigotry when it happens. School or community leaders might be inclined to believe that one racist incident — such as a group of students making what appears to be a Nazi salute — is not representative of who they are as a whole.
“How schools deal with that and address it really sends a message,” Spiegler says. “Sometimes schools want to say it’s an isolated incident. They don’t really take it on and say, ‘Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.’”
Those incidents are opportunities for parents to talk with their kids about bias and hate. But the trick is to make it less of a lecture and more of a conversation to understand how your kids are interpreting these kinds of actions.
“It’s also important to hear how they’re thinking about it, otherwise it will shut down communication,” Spiegler says. “Hear what young people are thinking before we go into a rant. It’s important to convey your values, but also keep communication open.”
If you find they have views that contradict your own, you can question their line of thinking without immediately putting them on the defensive. Ask why do they feel that way, where did they learn that and why do they trust the source of their information? Then you can begin to learn more together.
Teach them about propaganda
In a world full of ‘fake news’, lying politicians and propaganda, kids need to learn how to spot when they’re being manipulated. With young kids, that can start by talking about advertising and the motivations behind an ad or commercial: They’re trying to sell you something.
Some social studies teacher give lessons on propaganda, but it’s a topic parents should be tackling at home, too, so kids can learn how to differentiate between unbiased fact and propaganda. The ADL created a guide called “Propaganda, Extremists and Online Recruitment Tactics” to help parents initiate a conversation with their teenagers.
The guide offers some basic background on how extremists recruit, as well as questions and topics that parents can use as a starting point with their kids. Those questions include:
Have you seen any type of propaganda online? What did you notice about it?
How do you think propaganda is like advertising and how is it different?
What do you know about terrorism and extremism and what more do you want to know?
Why do you think members of extremist groups reach out to people online to recruit new members?
How do you feel about extremist groups trying to recruit young people online?
“Ultimately, part of how you want them to think about it is that they’re being lured into it,” Spiegler says.
Teach them about hate speech and hate symbols
If you think your child is not hearing hate speech and seeing hate symbols online, while they’re gaming and out in the community, you’re wrong. Spiegler says her own daughter often tells her about the swastikas written across students’ notebooks or on bathroom walls. If we don’t talk about it and explain the history behind such symbols, we are part of the problem.
“We’re seeing a huge increase of hate symbols in schools, and if we normalize it and don’t see it as an ongoing issue in the community, then it just becomes part of our culture,” Spiegler says. “I’m afraid that’s starting to happen.”
The ADL has a Hate Symbol Database that provides the pictures, descriptions and meanings of hundreds of hate symbols.
Most kids understand what bullying is, but you will probably have to help them differentiate bullying from hate speech. Caroline Knorr of Common Sense Media provides a clear explanation for kids in this HuffPost article:
If someone is trying to hurt someone, or knows that they’re hurting someone, and does it repeatedly, that’s cyberbullying. When someone expresses vicious views about a group or toward an attribute of a group, that’s hate speech.
Knorr offers parents and kids practical tips for handling hate speech online, such as by reporting it, blocking certain users and calling it out when they feel comfortable doing so.
Don’t let them become isolated
Kids crave feelings of acceptance. They need a sense belonging, to feel that they’re part of a group. Ask yourself: Is my child an outcast? Does he feel marginalized at school? Does she have friends?
If the answer is no, they are vulnerable to extremist groups who can fill that void. Help them identify places where they can build stronger connections, whether it’s through a club, activity, sport or church group.
“Young people feeling marginalized and having no sense of belonging with peers is a huge important thing that we all need to think about,” Spiegler says. “We always say we need to create inclusive, welcoming, diverse schools and communities so people don’t feel marginalized and isolated. Because then they are more susceptible because they’re looking for a sense of belonging, and these (extremist) groups offer that.”
Talk about current events
If you’re not talking to your kids about current events, chances are, they’re getting their information elsewhere. It’s important to use current events in an age-appropriate way to open up a dialogue with your kids about hate and bias.
Common Sense Media has a guide for Best News Sources for Kids that parents can use as a starting point for talking about the news, how it’s reported and how to become a critical consumer of media.