Talking with Teens about Charlottesville – Tips and Resources
The last week was ROUGH. Like “Where is the chocolate? I need it in my mouth right now before I end up crying in the fetal position” kind of rough. Even more than a week later, I am still processing what happened in Charlottesville and its fallout. As a native Virginian, I was heartbroken to see the hate and violence in my home state. As a parent, I was terrified. My daughter is too young to understand what is happening, but what if she was older? How would I explain what is going on?
As a former Social Studies teacher, I also immediately thought about the very tough conversations my colleagues are having or are about to have with students. This can be especially daunting at the beginning of the school year when you are creating relationships with the kids.
Social Studies teachers talk about EVERYTHING in class and I have had my share of class discussions about controversial topics. Here are some of my tips for handling these conversations with your own child or an entire class:
Tips for Talking to Teens
Be honest, but age-appropriate – Kids are more aware of what is happening than most adults realize. (In fact, I can guarantee that they have already talked about it with their friends.) And they are able to understand events as well. However, keep it appropriate for the child’s age. You have a very different conversation with 17-year-olds than with 11-year-olds.
Acknowledge different perspectives – “People have different ideas about these issues. Some people think ____ because ____. Other people think ____ because _____.” Then explain where you stand and why. You want to teach respect for other perspectives while still getting your viewpoint across.
However, when it comes to racism and anti-Semitism, there is no room for “different perspectives.” Be very clear that those beliefs are unacceptable in your home, community, and school.
Set ground rules: (If having a group discussion in school, church, scouts, etc) It needs to be a safe place for all kids involved. Kids should focus on the argument, not the person. They need to listen and ask for follow-up from the speaker. You should give a 1-minute break after a kid says something very emotional or personally honest. This gives everyone a chance to process the statement and calm some immediate emotions.
It’s OK to admit you don’t know – Kids can ask crazy hard questions. If you don’t know the answer, tell them. Brainstorm with them how you could find the answer. Then, look for the answer together.
Include actionable steps – Kids (and adults) can get anxious when they think they have no control. And they don’t have a lot of control over this. However, focus on things they can do in their community or school. For ideas on how to find volunteer opportunities, check out my post on teen volunteering. I included a free planning worksheet that can jump start the process.
Have a follow-up discussion – Check in with your child or students a few days later to see what they have been thinking about or feeling. You might be amazed at what they bring up!
References for Parents and Teachers
To help us all out, I’ve compiled a list of resources from the web, for parents and teachers. Some are simply informational, while others are actual lesson plans for the classroom.
I hope this helps! For more resources, check out #CharlottesvilleCurriculum on Twitter.
Los Angeles Times
An article meant for parents *but is great for teachers, too!) about how to speak to kids of all ages about the violence in Charlottesville.
National Network of State Teachers of the Year
Read books about different racial and ethnic groups and social justice issues with your kids! This list breaks down such books by grade level.
This podcast about American history is hosted by 4 American history professors. Two of the hosts work at UVA and live in Charlottesville. It’s a thoughtful discussion of recent events, the history of racism in the US, and the role of Confederate monuments.
A good discussion of white privilege with solid examples you could use with kids.
Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD)
A great resource for teachers who want to start these conversations. I especially recommend the section on establishing guidelines. You must set the ground rules BEFORE jumping into these conversations in the classroom.
A long list of AMAZING resources for teachers and administrators.
A Google slide presentation you can copy and adjust for your students and your classroom.
Lesson Plans for Teachers
Series of resources, including video and photograph analysis about Charlottesville created by a teacher. This would be a great lesson plan for middle or high school!
NY Times Learning Network
Students read an article from the NY Times about the incidents in Charlottesville and answer basic reading questions. The students either read a few comments on the articles (yikes!) and/ or respond to one of the author’s claim in the article. I would start in small groups and then move to a class discussion.
Students watch a video and answer discussion questions related to media and perspectives. The questions are pretty high level, but I think most teens will jump into them. I would have students write their answers, share in a small group, and then have a class discussion.
Discusses different perspectives about Confederate monuments and provides links to other articles. This would be a good jumping off point to create a lesson.
An interesting article about how Europe is still dealing with Nazi and Communist-era monuments. It would interesting to discuss this and the article above.