How to Thoughtfully Support Minority Youth
Part 1

Author

Emily Rubens, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT)
Emily Rubens, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT)

Emily Rubens (LMFT) helps people work through anxiety and trauma while improving the quality of their relationships.

Racial/Ethnic Minority Youth (Minority Youth) report greater exposure to trauma compared to White Youth. One factor that may account for this difference is racial trauma. According to Child Trends, racial trauma includes:

1) Chronic stress,
2) Racial discrimination,
3) Threats of harm/injury,
4) Shaming events, and/or
5) Witnessing harm to other people of color due to racism.

Without support, Minority Youth who experience any form of racial trauma may later develop mental health issues including:

1) Anxiety,
2) Depression,
3) Chronic irritability,
4) Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and
5) Avoidant behavior.

Because we live in a society that values whiteness and the traits that go along with it, it’s important for us to recognize and reflect on ways we can help.

Below are some suggestions to support Minority Youth feel valued, affirmed, and have a sense of belonging.

Talk About Race

To help protect children from experiencing racial trauma, caregivers should start talking to them about race and racism early in life. According to findings in a 2019 survey conducted by the Sesame Workshop, 60% of parents rarely or never discuss race, ethnicity, or social class with their children. The same survey reported that only 19% of teachers say they talk with their students about social class. 

It’s understandable that we may want to avoid these conversations because we worry about introducing racial bias. But by having these discussions, adults are teaching children that differences are something we can to ignore. Talking to children about race and racism can help them feel empowered and hopeful about the future. This is especially true if these conversations have a focus on promoting resilience. Child Trends notes that these conversations can: 

  • Foster confidence and self-efficacy; 
  • Can promote psychological well-being, and 
  • Help to create a positive sense of racial identity

Additionally, talking to the White Youth in your life can be another way to support Minority Youth. Ongoing discussions are essential for White Youth to develop their racial awareness. For example, you can have them identify racism they have seen or participated in.  Caregivers can also discuss how White Youth can work against such discrimination. Lastly, it is important to talk to White Youth about how they have benefited from White privilege.

Talk about Law Enforcement

Another way to support Minority Youth is to provide them with tools that will help them in situations that involve police officers. Remind them (and other children as well) that it is not okay for law enforcement officers to treat someone differently because of their race. One way you can help prepare Youth for communicating with officers is to educate youth on their legal rights. For example, tell youth that it is okay to give their names to an officer, but that they should immediately ask for a parent and a lawyer if they face further questioning.

Additionally, take a moment to validate the child;s feelings. Let them know it is okay to feel scared or afraid, even if they have not done anything wrong. Suggest that, if they encounter a police officer that they do their best to remain calm in their interactions with officers. Remaining calm can prevent the situation from escalating. If they are uncertain whether something unlawful happened, they should try to remember as much details as possible and reporting of the interaction can come later. You can tell them that they are allowed to request the officer’s badge number and license plate but should avoid getting into verbal conflict or confrontations with law enforcement officers when possible. And, if they find themselves or a friend in a life-threatening situation, tell youth to dial 9-1-1.

Listen and Validate

It is more important than ever to validate Minority Youth’s feelings and experiences about race and racism. We don’t always need to provide help or feedback. Sometimes, all we need to do is listen and sit in the uncomfortable truths of racism. Problem solving or advice about their issue can come later. 


It is critical to allow space for children to express the injustices they see or experience. It helps to alleviate stress and fosters open communication. Let them know it’s okay for them to feel frustrated or sad and encourage them to continue to share their experiences with trusted adults in their life.

Focus on Positive changes and stories

In this day and age, we are all exposed to negative news cycles that can impact our ability to stay hopeful. This can be especially detrimental to Minority Youth. To combat this, Writer and Diversity Leader, Ralinda Watts, suggest that we take time to: 

  1. Share stories that promote racial pride in children, 
  2. Talk about events that show triumph in the face of adversity and 
  3. Research the contributions of Minority people to our nation’s growth and history.
In this way, we are presenting the histories and cultures of Minority populations in ways that are affirming.  Minority Youth can then have their experiences and heritage affirmed and celebrated. This can help cultivate a sense of empowerment and encourage activism in children. This inspired activism can help create a more equitable society.

Provide Reassurance and Promote Anti-Racist Beliefs

Helping Minority Youth feel safe and protected is crucial to healthy development. Do this by taking time to remind the Minority Youth in your life that you are there to help keep them safe. Show them that people are dedicating their time and resources to create positive change. 

 

 

This can help children reach out for help when needed, regulate stress, and allow for joy in their lives. Overall, reassurance and validation can instill hope when Minority youth face discrimination.

Additionally, try to exemplify anti-racist beliefs through your actions whenever possible. This shows youth how they can intervene or cope with discrimination they experience or witness. Take a moment to celebrate the benefits of racial diversity and inclusion in society. Encourage the youth in your life to socialize with people in other racial/ethnic groups. Help all youth to offer compassion to others. Live through example and be a positive influence.

Hopefully you learned some ways in which you can support Minority Youth in a more thoughtful way. In Part 2 of this post, we will explore ways in which you can invest in the futures of  Minority Youth on a systems level.

 

Note: I want to acknowledge the tremendous privilege I have as an ally and a White woman doing this work in Northern California. I do my best to be respectful and mindful of the experiences I will never understand or have as an individual who is treated a certain way due to the color of my skin or the assumptions made about me or my kin based on the way I present. That being said, I intend to use the platform I have to amplify the voices of others and to advocate for my colleagues who identify as Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC)n and strongly support members of the LGBTQ+ community, If there is something in this blog that is inaccurate or could benefit from updated information, please feel free to contact us and reference this post as Approach Therapy and I are always striving to learn and do better.

 

If you would benefit from therapy or support due to racial trauma or social injustice and live in California, Illinois or New York, please feel free to Contact Us about therapy.

 

References: 

  1. Kotler, J.A, Haider, T.Z. & Levine, M.H. (2019). Identity matters: Parents’ and educators’ perceptions of children’s social identity development. New York: Sesame Workshop.
  2.  Saleem FT, Anderson RE, Williams M. Addressing the “Myth” of Racial Trauma: Developmental and Ecological Considerations for Youth of Color. Clin Child Fam Psychol Rev. 2020 Mar;23(1):1-14. doi: 10.1007/s10567-019-00304-1. PMID: 31641920; PMCID: PMC8845073.
  3. Parris, D, St. John, V, Bartlett, JD. (2020). Resources to Support Children’s Emotional Well-Being amid Anti-Black Racism, Racial Violence, and Trauma. Child Trends. https://www.childtrends.org/publications/resources-to-support-childrens-emotional-well-being-amid-anti-black-racism-racial-violence-and-trauma.
  4. Watts, R. (2021). Five Strategies to Help Black Students Feel at Home in School. George Lucas Educational Foundation. https://www.edutopia.org/article/5-strategies-help-black -students -feel-home-school

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