How to talk to kids about riots in America
Emily and Mike Green wrote 'How to Talk to Kids about Race in America,' as parents for parents, and also educators. In their latest guide, they offer resources to help families talk about protests following the police killing of George Floyd.
As we sat at the dinner table last week, Mike began to talk to our children about the Long Hot Summer of 1967. We talked about how we are now almost in summer again, and decided we are living in the Spring Pandemic of 2020. He then asked them, “Do you know what all these protests are about, that we are seeing today?” One son quickly answered, “The death of George Floyd.” Mike affirmed his answer and explained that George Floyd was a black man, living in Minneapolis. “Do you know what state Minneapolis is in?” and we all found the city on the map. “Minnesota!”, the boys answered.
Mike began to ask questions about what happened to George Floyd, and he explained the two theories that are being reported: that he wrote a fake check or that he tried to pay with a counterfeit $20 bill. Both of those concepts were explained, and Mike then asked, “What should a store owner do if this happens in their store?” One boy said, “They should call the police,” and we agreed that it was the proper thing to do. Mike then asked, “So would that person deserve to die?” Immediately, both boys yelled, “NO! You should just get arrested!”
“So, is there any amount of money worth killing someone over?”
It starts at home.
In 2019, we launched a workshop for parents and educators, How to Talk to Kids about Race in America. The success of that workshop was interrupted by a global pandemic.
We wrote this guide, How to Talk to Kids About Riots in America, to help parents and educators explain to children how and why America is contending with protests and riots impacting dozens of cities across the nation mid-way through 2020.
On the day of publishing this guide, the United States was experiencing a national eruption of protests in the wake of police killing Floyd, a Black man in Minneapolis who allegedly tried to pass a counterfeit $20 bill. Similarly, in 2014, a New York City police officer choked another Black man named Eric Garner to death for selling cigarettes on the streets.
As parents of elementary age students, we’ve developed these materials to relate to younger children, although you can use them all the way through high school and as a point of discussion with your college-age and adult children to bring families together.
The guide is broken down into three sections with tools and research references to help you put what’s happening in historical context. We encourage you to explore the references as supplemental homework to build your family’s knowledge and understanding of this great but troubled land we live in.
This excerpt provides a helpful role play exercise that families can use to talk about the painful images we see every night on the news.
When a riot occurs, comfortable beneficiaries of status quo segregationist policies and practices inherited from the 20th century often dismiss grievances, ignore the systemic problems … or proclaim they don’t exist. This is a dangerous cycle of apathy and ambivalence that causes protesters to go to further lengths to be heard.
We must keep in mind that whatever is captured is a moment in time that is missing essential context that enables us to correctly determine what‘s happening, decipher fact from fiction, and discern between edited information designed to influence our perspective and genuine messaging from legitimately aggrieved groups engaged in peaceful protest to elevate their voices … which have heretofore gone unheard.
Here is an example of a role play that we would do in our home.
Show your child a brief clip of news coverage of the protests to provide context. And refer to the resources included in this guide.
Next, have your child play the role of a reporter, arriving on scene at a protest. Hand them a prop for a microphone, and based on the information in this section, ask your child questions about the various characters on scene as presented in this section. Have them describe what they’re seeing. You play the role of the news anchor in studio, and feed questions to them as they would receive as a reporter.
What is happening on scene? What are the police doing? Go through the list of characters and ask about them. What is the mood of the crowd? What is the message of the protesters?
Next, have the child (still playing reporter), attend a press conference with the mayor (you are the mayor). The mayor makes a presentation and the reporter asks questions.
Additional questions to consider:
How would you analyze today’s widespread protests and riots in America?
What would you say are the underlying factors of the current civil unrest?
Why do you think there is vandalism, looting and violence in the streets at night but relative calm peaceful protests during the day?
What do you think police and other law enforcement and military troops should do when deployed to protest areas?
What can we do in each city to prevent or prepare for the next trigger event?
Learn more: Emily and Mike are available for online Q&A sessions if you’d like to speak with them and continue learning and sharing. They’re also accepting bookings for facilitated group training and audience presentations. Contact: Emily Green firstname.lastname@example.org.
Emily Green and Mike Green
Mike Green is a cultural economist and co-founder of ScaleUp Partners, a national consultancy specializing in local and regional economic strategies that cultivate workforce and entrepreneurial talent among the nation's Most Vulnerable Populations (MVP) to scale up their productivity and bolster the competitiveness and sustainability of local economies. Mike is a national speaker, author, and Chief Strategist at the National Institute for Inclusive Competitiveness (NIIC).