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The Damaging Effect of Racism and Discrimination on Children in America

The recent events surrounding racial discrimination have caused a cacophony of sounds from people on both sides of the argument. While the adults fight for injustices near and far, children are left with a myriad of feelings. 

Understanding racism and its effect on children is critical for parents, teachers, and everyone. The fact of the matter is that feelings on racism begin at home. Many people worry that some children should not be exposed to hatred at a young age. Others are merely uncomfortable having this type of conversation. But it needs to happen. Hiding or avoiding the discussion does not protect the child. Biases occur, and the only way to overcome them is by being clear about what is and is not acceptable and by celebrating diversity.  

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has condemned racism and has recommitted to rooting out inequalities that threaten children’s health. “We must dismantle racism at every level, from individual to institutional to systemic,” said AAP President Sara “Sally” H. Goza, M.D., FAAP. “Our nation did not get here overnight, and the road to progress and healing will be long and difficult, but the work we have before us is essential. Our children’s future will be built on these moments of reckoning.”

For parents, it is essential to understand how racism harms children in real and fundamental ways. As pediatric providers, we are committed to protecting the health and wellbeing of children. This includes helping parents have hard conversations. 

Racism and discrimination are diseases. Separating people by perceived differences does nothing except decrease the opportunities for growth and development. Biologically, we are one race, sharing 99.9% of our genes. Despite differences in color, backgrounds, and beliefs, we must begin embracing our sameness rather than isolating others for their differences. 

How Racism Affects Children

According to Harvard, racism and its effects can lead to chronic stress for children. Chronic stress causes changes in hormones, which can lead to inflammation and chronic disease. 

But discrimination goes well beyond the color of one’s skin. Discrimination can occur due to gender, sexual orientation, religion, disability, and immigration status. Children must be taught that while we are genetically identical (99.9%), we have differences that make each of us unique and special. If we all looked the same and came from the same backgrounds and believed the same things, we would be pretty boring! 

Parents can help change racism and discrimination by teaching kids to embrace each other’s differences. This requires taking a hard look at our own beliefs and biases and making changes when necessary. It also means being comfortable speaking up against racism or discrimination when it is seen or heard. We need to improve how we communicate as a society. Fairness and love for all are paramount. 

Conversations on racism and discrimination should begin as early as possible. The topics of discussion will vary by age but should occur openly. UNICEF put together some tips for talking to kids about inequalities based on age. You can read this article here. When your child points out the little girl in a wheelchair or the boy with the disfigured face, look at this as a teachable moment. Explain to the child that we are all people, and while there are some differences, those differences make each of us special in our own way. Embrace diversity.

We are here to help if you have concerns about how racism and discrimination are affecting your child. Laurie Powers, PA-C, is board-certified in psychiatry and can guide children in overcoming the obstacles currently plaguing our nation. To schedule an appointment with Mrs. Powers or any of our other pediatric providers, call us today.