Editor’s note: At BELatina, we are convinced that the moment the world is going through demands more conversations, more involvement, and more active participation from everyone to create a generation aware of the implications of social justice. This article is just a sample of our commitment.
Children are never too young to learn about social justice, about doing the right thing, about equality, racism, and kindness.
Yet, parents are often concerned about protecting their children from the harshness of the real world.
As parents, we want to protect them from everything that is bad, dangerous, disappointing, painful, hard, unsafe… We simply want the best for them.
But should protecting our children imply making them blind to the injustices of the world?
Not at all.
According to parenting experts, psychologists, activists, and educators, it’s never too early to talk to our children about social justice, just as it’s never too late to learn and educate ourselves.
The importance of starting the conversation early
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children notice racial differences as early as six months, and between 2 and 4 years old, children can internalize racial bias. Furthermore, by age 12, many children become set in their beliefs, including their cultural understanding, which means that there is never a wrong time to begin the conversation.
From the very moment your children can snuggle in your arms, you can begin to instill values of equality, fairness, goodness, justice, and activism.
Back in August of 2020, we spoke with author, poet, and activist Mahogany Browne about the necessary steps in raising a generation of anti-racists. She expressed that often parents do not start the conversation about social justice because they are uncomfortable discussing race with their children.
“I think adults are afraid to admit we are wrong,” she told us. “We are all figuring it out. Some of us are truly scared of getting it wrong. So, if we never address it, if we never admit it, if we never acknowledge it — then we can feign ignorance.”
The question is less about whether or not we should talk to our children about social justice and more a matter of how. When do we begin the conversation? How do we broach such a tough topic in an age-appropriate way? How do we come to terms with our own discomfort so that we can actually parent and raise our children to be helpers and activists in a meaningful way?
It all starts with a first step
First of all, don’t expect it to be a one-time topic that you discuss for a moment and never address again. Think of it more as a lifelong journey towards equality and socially just actions. Think of it as a change in your parenting script, where many of your teachings and conversations revolve around this idea of social justice and racial equality.
Next, start with small activities and age-appropriate ways of addressing this heavy topic. Read a book together about social justice. Mahogany Browne’s book Woke Baby is the perfect tool to help parents raise little activists and help families discuss social justice from the very beginning.
Also, consider your library and how diverse your collection of books and toys actually is.
“The books in our home libraries should reflect the world, not just the bubble we’ve curated,” suggests Mahogany Browne. “That means different abilities, cultures, languages, sizes — all need to be present in our children’s reading stacks.”
Stock your library with books on these social justice lists, which cover everything from immigration to gender identity to racism, voting rights, and everything in between. Similarly, make sure you use those books and associated forms of play to promote openness and inclusion.
Talk about how people are different, and we all come from different backgrounds, but what makes us each different is what makes everyone unique and important. This is a message you can share long before your children understand your words, but the values will translate over time.
Once your children are in elementary school, you can get a little more hands-on with your discussion. Try this lemon peel exercise:
Give each child a lemon and tell them to study their lemon and “get to know” their piece of fruit. They should look for identifying marks, notable shape qualities or the brightness of the peel, etc. Then put the lemons into a bowl with others, and then ask them to identify their lemon.
Next, peel the lemons and place them back into the bowl. Now ask them to identify which lemon is theirs — chances are they will never know. This will teach your kids that while we may look different on the outside, we are all the same on the inside.
As children get older, you can dive into more thorough explanations and have more honest discussions about what social justice really means and how they can help through their own activism.
Study social justice warriors of the past and present. Talk about how you can get involved in your own communities and how you can participate in activism in both your neighborhood and on a larger scale. Visit other neighborhoods and travel to other communities. Come up with tangible goals about how your actions could (and will) have an impact.
Finally, teach your kids that their opinions matter, their voice is important, their actions have consequences (good and bad), and they have the power to change the world.
To truly create a culture of inclusiveness, we must all ask questions and let our children ask their own questions as well. There’s never a wrong time to start the conversation and work towards a better, more socially just future.