Mental Health Mondays – “Racism, Protest and Violence in America”

Mental Health Mondays - June 15 Event

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Key Takeaways – June 8, 2020 | 4 p.m.

“Racism, Protest and Violence in America: Helping Our Kids Cope with What They Are Seeing, Thinking and Feeling”

Dr. Paul Simeone, VP-Medical Director of Behavioral Health at Lee Health
Tesharia Folkes, Medical Social Worker at Lee Health



Racism and other forms of discrimination can be hard for adults to wrap their minds around, let alone have a comfortable and open honest conversation with their children. This time when people have lost their jobs, their health and their loved ones, make it more complex. The whole world seems like it is upside down. The goal of parenting is to protect and console. By avoiding conversations because of our own discomfort, we are not fulfilling our roles.

  1. Respect your child’s opinions. They may have valuable answers and thoughts to the questions you pose. What we are dealing with right now will affect them way longer than it will affect us. The idea of a child staying in a child’s place as is expected in some cultures is toxic and maladaptive to them finding and personalizing their voice.
  2. Not every conversation will be the same. It’s important to understand, depending on your child’s age, maturity, race, place and privilege, that conversations may be different. The idea of once size fits all doesn’t cut it. Conversations will be different per child, and that’s OK.
  3. Know when to bring in an expert. When you don’t have the words or knowledge of something to express on objective opinion, partner with someone who does. Lean on your community when you need additional support.
  4. Don’t be afraid to expose and diversify your children. Give them the chance to play with toys and watch shows that normalize diversity and spark conversations about race.
  5. Let your child lead you. Develop a culture where your child feels comfortable coming to you about challenging topics. The more familiar and comfortable we are, the more likely we are to engage. Create an atmosphere that feels safe to express emotions.


  1. Conscious parenting. Things I’ve learned as a parent: 1. We all revisit our developmental journeys as we travel through our kids’ development. 2. We parents stand between our children and the communities in which they live. It’s our job, responsibility and challenge to help them become individuals while remaining part of the culture they live in.
  2. Protests and violence. We need to ask what these mean to ourselves, and then what it is we are doing to teach our kids about it. Some starting questions: What do we think about people who are different, not just racially? Think about how tolerant you are about difference. What are the implicit biases you bring into the conversations you have with yourself and your children? What do you think about protest? Are they part of citizenship, or do you feel they are disrespectful? Do you view violence as a positive expression of the way we feel, or do you feel it is self-destructive and destructive? Can you compassionately think about violence? Martin Luther King said violence is the language of the unheard.
  3. Protecting our children. Most important is to provide reassurance, stability and support. Telling the truth is the most supportive thing you can do, but it has to be done with their level. No matter what the age, begin by asking questions. Ask what they know about race, protest and violence. Be curious about what’s happening with them and welcome all their thoughts. No thoughts should be banished from the conversation. Model tolerance and value the authentic conversation. With young kids, less is more. Use art, music, doll play, games to make inroads into their world. Race, protest and violence offer an opportunity to talk about tolerance, to talk about justice, to talk about the difference between constructive and destructive self-expression. With older children we can invite challenging discussions. Use them to promote self-expression and self-reflection, curiosity and the testing of emotional and intellectual limits.
  4. Use this as opportunity to develop important life skills like critical thinking, questioning authority respectfully but unapologetically, building skills of emotional regulation, modeling what it means to have healthy and thoughtful engagements in the culture that you live in. When the culture isn’t enabling people to live, it’s up to parents to provide that buoyancy. There will be other times like this that children will have to traverse, and we need to prepare them for what’s coming. Help children feel supported in efforts to make this a better world.


Questions from viewers:

Q: How do we protect our youth from the influence of parents, social media, the Boogaloo Movement and other outside factors when the civil unrest is going on?

A: PS: For me, I think the question needs to be changed. I don’t think it’s protecting children from that. I think it’s a matter of helping them to digest it. Social media is not going away. When I talk about developing skills including critical analytic skills and capacity to regulate your own emotional life, what I mean is we need to train our kids to arrive in their lives prepared to handle them. People who have those skills don’t get anxious. They take those things as they come. They don’t always know what to do, but they have the confidence they can figure it out. It’s not about protecting them but raising them to manage the challenges of life. My experience in treating adolescents and their parents is that kids are more often better able to handle the truth than their parents are. I don’t think we should underestimate in any way children’s capacity to tolerate the truth and to hear it. They need parents and adults around them to make them feel like someone is in control and have strong shoulders.

TF: When you cultivate a culture of honesty and love, children can come to their parents to discuss tough topics. I don’t think the answer should be to shelter, but to expose.

Q: In talking to our kids, how do we converse to encourage sound critical thinking as opposed to being spoon fed “info” on social media?

A: PS. I used to tell me kids: “Information is not knowledge and knowledge is not wisdom.” Transformation from information to knowledge and knowledge to wisdom has to do with the capacity to critically think about all those things. It takes courage to think critically. I think it’s something we need to model for our children, whether it’s about race, the divisiveness about politics, a difference of opinion about what happened in history. It’s worth facing the truth so we can deal with it.

Q: Are there resources you would recommend for families to read or watch with their children?

A: PS: Regarding race, “Eyes on the Prize” on PBS. “Roots” and more recently the 1619 project through the New York Times. Django In Chains by Quentin Tarantino (with older kids).

TF: I’ve been getting into Tim Wise as a speaker. He has a way of talking about hard topics in a loving way.

Q: How do we navigate this with youth who may be reluctant to engage in these difficult conversations?

A: TF: For me, you meet them where they are. When they are ready, they will come. The biggest thing is creating that safe space. Build rapport with them, invest in the relationship and break down barriers to have the conversation.

PS: If you spend enough time with your kids across a wide range of experiences, there will be naturally occurring situations where people will just start talking. You have to invite it and be there for it.

Q: We are extremely truthful with our kids (6 and 8). They have seen the news footage and riots with us watching with them and talking about it as it happens (and WHY it is happening). I worry that they will focus more on the violence and not the cause. Advise?

A: PS: If you are sharing news with them, you need to help them interpret and digest it. Ask them about what they think about people who are violent. What do you think about police who kneel on someone’s neck until they are dead? It’s a good opportunity to talk about constructive and destructive self-expression, including suicide, which is a form of destructive self-expression.

TF: When you expose your children to something, you have to be ready to walk with them and show them both sides.

Q: How can parents collaborate with schools (or other resources) in creating spaces for youth to develop these critical thinking skills?

A: PS: I think that developing critical thinking skills needs to happen all the time. In our family, where there were robust discussions around the dinner table and watching the news, there are questions one can ask about one’s point of view. Ask why you believe something. How do you get to that? That’s what critical thinking is.

TS: Advice for teachers who are dealing with parents who don’t create a space for kids to think

Q: Scenario: White woman has a daughter with a black man. They separate and mom is the guardian parent. The daughter is approximately 7 years old. She is curious about the protests and the mother shows her a clip of George Floyd’s death. The daughter is afraid that her father and other black men will be killed by police. How does Mom rebound?

A: TF: That is tough. How do you protect and console a child when you have more questions than answers?

PS: I think you acknowledge up front that it’s a real dilemma, and life is full of dilemmas and that there are often not a lot of great answers to questions that get posed. Acknowledge that life is a dangerous process, particularly for black men in America. There isn’t a great answer to the question. Talking about why there isn’t a good answer to the question is very important.

TF: A lot of times we are not going to have the right answers but addressing the reality and the truth is the best thing that we can do.  Even in therapy you may not have the answers, but you can sit with your client and allow them the space to feel what they feel. If it’s fear, if it’s anger, you are just sitting and letting them feel.