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August 3, 2023

How to Talk about Race and Racism with Your Teen

“We are growing up. We are growing up! Out of the idiocies – the ignorances of racism and sexism and ageism and all those ignorances.” – Maya Angelou

As parents, one of our most important roles is to prepare our children for the world they will inherit. This includes helping them understand and navigate complex social issues such as race and racism. But how do we start this conversation with our teens? It can seem overwhelming, but it’s a crucial task; and with the right preparation and understanding, we can equip our children for success in a diverse world. As it says in Galatians 3:28, NIV, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”, which serves as a reminder of our universal equality and shared humanity.

Breaking down complex concepts like racism into understandable parts becomes essential when communicating with young minds. By taking inspiration from everyday situations and using accessible language, complex ideas can be unraveled. Remember, the goal isn’t to gloss over the seriousness of racism, but rather to present it in a manner that’s relatable and easier to comprehend.

Constructive and compassionate dialogues are the key to open, healthy conversations with our kids. No journey is without its bumps, but each respectful discussion fosters an environment of fairness, kindness, and equality, diminishing the spaces where racism can take root.

Racism Definition

Racism, at its core, is a system steeped in the belief that one race is superior to others. This mindset fosters discrimination and prejudice, fueled by the presumed inferiority of other groups. Understanding this fundamental definition is the first step in equipping ourselves and our teens to navigate this topic. The nuance lies in the multi-faceted nature of racism, often intertwining with systems of power, policy, and societal norms, and it’s important to relay this complexity to our children.

When viewed through the lens of our Parent’s Guide To Racism in the United States, we can begin to see the impact of these racially biased systems and beliefs on our society. By adopting an empathetic and understanding approach, and grounding these discussions in a Biblical perspective, we can guide our teens toward a more compassionate worldview. It’s our responsibility not only to bring light to the harsh realities of racism but to also emphasize our capacity to contribute positively towards change.

What Is Racial Bias?

Racial bias encompasses the attitudes or stereotypes that subtly influence an individual’s perceptions, actions, and decisions concerning race. This is often an unconscious process, manifesting in subtle ways that can make it hard to identify. An example might be a preconceived notion about a person’s capabilities or character based solely on their racial background. Understanding racial bias helps in recognizing that it doesn’t solely operate at an individual level but can also permeate institutions and societal structures.

Our Culture Translator podcast discussion on Critical Race Theory provides a more profound insight into the nature of racial bias and its wider societal impact. The theory assumes that racism is an ingrained part of our society and legal systems, not just a collection of individual prejudices. As we discuss and investigate these theories and principles with our teens, it’s important to remember how Jesus treated those he ministered to during His time on earth.

Jesus’ teachings emphasized love, justice, equality, and the dignity of all individuals. He taught His followers to love their neighbors as themselves and to treat others with fairness and compassion. He spoke out against discrimination, prejudice, and the mistreatment of marginalized groups. And as we begin to send our teens into the ‘real world,’ we must continue to share these teachings with them.

Why Is it Important to Talk About Race and Racism?

Addressing the topic of race and racism is vital as it paves the way for understanding and empathy, the cornerstones of any compassionate society. By sparking these conversations, we are educating our children about the diverse world they inhabit, and in doing so, nurturing their capacity for empathetic interaction. Our role as parents, teachers, and guides encompasses far more than providing for their basic needs. It involves shaping their perspectives, enriching their worldviews, and equipping them with the necessary tools to foster a just and inclusive society.

At the heart of these dialogues is the essence of Christ’s teachings. His words underscore the importance of love, acceptance, and acknowledging the dignity of every individual, regardless of their race or ethnicity. As stewards of these values, it is our responsibility to ensure they are instilled in our teens. These conversations about race aren’t merely academic or theoretical exercises. They are the foundational pillars upon which we can build a world that reflects the teachings of Christ – a world that sees beyond the superficial differences and recognizes the shared humanity in all.

The world our children will navigate is beautifully diverse, a tapestry of individuals from varied racial and ethnic backgrounds. Engaging in discussions about race and racism can arm them with the awareness and the sensibility to interact with everyone they encounter in a manner that is respectful, just, and loving. The goal isn’t merely to foster tolerance, but to cultivate genuine respect and appreciation for all of God’s diverse creations. It is about sowing the seeds of understanding and empathy, so our teens grow into adults who not only value diversity but celebrate it.

How to Talk to Your Child About Racism

Initiating conversations about racism with young children requires a sensitive and thoughtful approach. Start by acknowledging the beautiful spectrum of human diversity and explaining how everyone, regardless of their skin color, is unique and precious in the eyes of God. It is essential to use age-appropriate language when defining racism for kids, keeping explanations simple yet meaningful. As we begin these important conversations with our children, we should start with a simple, comprehensible racism definition for kids: ‘Racism means treating people unfairly or unkindly because of their skin color or where they’re from.’

Once they understand the basic concept, encourage them to embrace and appreciate these differences, rather than fear or disregard them. Remind them of the golden rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This guiding principle can act as a compass for children, helping them navigate interactions with others and fostering respect for diversity. By promoting these values, we lay the foundation for the next generation to be proactive in combating racism and promoting equality.

How to Talk to Your Teen About Racism

Teenagers, given their exposure to different sources of information like school curriculum and social media, often have a foundational understanding of racism. As a result, our discussions with them must focus on reinforcing values of empathy, fairness, and a non-judgmental attitude while dispelling misconceptions that they may have encountered. Encourage dialogues, not monologues – stimulate open-ended discussions, and incorporate a more refined definition of racism tailored for teens.

For our teens, it’s crucial to elaborate on this, offering a more nuanced racism definition for teens: “Racism is a system where one race believes they’re superior to others, which leads to discrimination and prejudice based on the supposed inferiority of other groups.” To make these conversations more meaningful, try referring to relevant and recent instances. Read up on resources like our article How to Talk About George Floyd with Your Teen. This would not only provide context but also make them realize the real-world implications of racism. By relating abstract concepts to tangible instances, we can help our teens comprehend the gravity of this social issue and inspire them to be a part of the change.

Practical Tips For Acknowledging Diversity

An essential part of these conversations is recognizing and appreciating diversity. We should encourage our teenagers to engage with different cultures, experiences, and viewpoints to foster a deep-seated appreciation for the variety that life offers. By introducing them to different traditions, foods, music, and stories, we can help them see the beauty in our diverse world.

Scripture provides a beautiful vision of this diversity in Revelations 7:9, NIV: “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” The idea is to cultivate in our teens an understanding that, just like this great multitude, we too stand together in our diversity, each uniquely created yet united in our humanity. By promoting these perspectives, we lay the groundwork for a future generation that truly acknowledges and values diversity.

Discover a wealth of information on by exploring our comprehensive collection on Cultural Issues: Navigating Cultural Influences With Your Teen, and our Open Letter from Our Co-Founders About Racism. These resources offer in-depth insights and practical guidance for tackling the challenges that come with raising a teen in today’s culturally diverse world.

Conversations about race and racism with our teens are not isolated events, but rather ongoing dialogues that evolve and deepen over time. They serve as building blocks for establishing a solid bond of trust and openness with our teens. They are opportunities to encourage our teens to view the world through a lens of empathy, fairness, and love – values central to a Christ-centered life. Remember, every discussion we engage in is a step forward in shaping our teens’ understanding of the world and their place within it.

Lastly, if this guide has offered you valuable insights, we invite you to consider supporting our mission at Axis. Your generous donations fuel our passion and enable us to continue equipping parents with the resources they need to instill lifelong faith in their children. Every contribution, big or small, has a significant impact on our ability to serve families, and we deeply appreciate your belief in our mission. So, let us continue this journey together, fostering a generation of understanding, empathy, and faith.

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