Black males are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police than white males (Edwards, Lee, Esposito, 2019). The killing of Black men by police is a traumatizing experience for individuals of any age group, but this is especially true for children who resemble the victims, in this case Black boys. As a parent myself, who is the father of three sons, the impact of these events cannot be overstated. Through the advent of social media and cell phones, Black boys have, unfortunately, witnessed the murders of adult males (i.e. George Floyd, Akai Gurley, Cory Jones, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Terence Crutcher, Walter Scott) during the last several years. In addition to these adult tragedies, other events have also impacted children and adolescents. While all life should be treated as sacred, the murders of youth such as Tamir Rice (aged 12), Trayvon Martin (aged 17), and Michael Brown (aged 18) is especially tragic. Consequently, this premature death of Black boys at the hands of law enforcement and their surrogates requires a proactive approach by parents in regards to their children.
The killing of Black men by police is a traumatizing experience for individuals of any age group, but this is especially true for children who resemble the victims, in this case Black boys.
How Should Parents Approach this Situation
In every instance, parents should strive to provide their sons with an honest assessment of how they are viewed in society. No matter how much you would like to protect them, parents should not attempt to hide the reality of the world from their children. When boys come of age parents generally have THE TALK, which under optimal circumstances includes topics such as avoiding drugs, alcohol, and sex; however the current climate surrounding police and Black boys necessitates talking about a different subject matter. Family and community-oriented problem solving skills have been shown to buffer the effects of being exposed to shootings and other forms of violence.
Scott l. Graves, phd
Dr. Graves is an associate professor of School Psychology in the Department of Educational Studies.
Overemphasizing examples of discrimination without positive examples of racial pride, spirituality, and coping leads to negative outcomes for Black boys.
How to Help Black Boys to become more Resilient
As unfortunate and scary as it may be as a parent, Black boys need to be prepared for the likely possibility that they’ll come into contact with police and law enforcement. The following are steps that can be taken when this occurs.
Ways to Prepare Boys for Police encounters
Talk to your sons openly and honestly about racial discrimination as it relates to being a Black boy. The reality is that Black boys are viewed as older and less innocent than their peers and they are suspended and expelled at higher rates from school than their same age counterparts. These are facts that cannot be ignored. As such, prepare your sons for this reality.
Balance your family talks about racial discrimination with positive messages of racial socialization (i.e. In general terms racial socialization is the process by which family members transmit messages about the meaning of their race). Overemphasizing examples of discrimination without positive examples of racial pride, spirituality, and coping leads to negative outcomes for Black boys. Without this balance feelings of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress may set in.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Historically there has been hesitation by members of the Black community to seek out support from mental health providers. With the advent of social media (e.g. Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook), Black youth are constantly bombarded with traumatic events such as the killing of Black men by law enforcement (Stone & Socia, 2019). Consequently, symptoms of trauma may not go away; so seeking professional help should always be an option.
Ask your school for resources. As mandated by federal law, school districts are required to have professional and certified school psychologists, school counselors, and social workers on staff. If you do not know who these professionals are in your school district contact your child’s teacher, principal, or school board member.
Scott L. Graves, Jr., PhD
Scott L. Graves, Jr., is an associate professor of School Psychology in the Department of Educational Studies. He earned his doctorate in educational psychology from the University of Kentucky. His interests can be broadly categorized as understanding protective factors that lead to appropriate development in early childhood. His research agenda is focused on identifying strengths in African American children that lead to positive social–emotional and academic outcomes. He is the former Chair of the American Psychological Associations (APA) Committee on Ethnic Minority Affairs (CEMA).
Edwards, F., Lee, H., & Esposito, M. (2019). Risk of being killed by police use of force in the United States by age, race–ethnicity, and sex. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 116(34), 16793-16798.
LeBlanc, M., Self‐Brown, S., Shepard, D., & Kelley, M. L. (2011). Buffering the effects of violence: communication and problem‐solving skills as protective factors for adolescents exposed to violence. Journal of Community Psychology, 39(3), 353-367.
Stone, R., & Socia, K. M. (2019). Boy with toy or black male with gun: an analysis of online news articles covering the shooting of Tamir Rice. Race and Justice, 9(3), 330-358.