As we near the end of Black History Month, it is especially pertinent to highlight the significance of building a healthy racial identity in children and youth. In our roles as parents, or individuals working with young people, we are responsible for ensuring that they have a healthy understanding of race and how it affects society. This is necessary for all children, regardless of their racial identity. As it pertains to Black youth, it is also important for adults to learn and implement strategies to reduce the mental harms of racism.
One strategy for supporting mental well-being in young people includes taking proactive measures to reduce their exposure to racist messaging. This might include limiting the amount of television or other forms of media that children consume. However, because racism is so widespread and embedded in American culture, children will inevitably notice racial patterns that identify and reinforce social hierarchies. Studies have shown that babies recognize race-based differences around six months and begin to develop racial bias by age three. For Black children, the association of race and status can contribute to low self-esteem and other negative mental health outcomes.
“As we near the end of Black History Month 2023, it is especially pertinent to highlight the significance of building a healthy racial identity in children and youth.”
Research reveals that adults who teach children about their history and culture and how to navigate negative racial messaging are more likely to question the dominant culture’s worldviews and be proud of their heritage. Moreover, creating an environment where children and youth can ask questions and express their thoughts and feelings without fear of judgment or retaliation is essential.
As parents and adults working with children, we are tasked to provide them with the tools to become well-rounded individuals who embrace diversity and challenge the status quo. To this end, Melissa A. Little, author of “Protecting Our Children Together: Minimizing the Psychological Harms of Racism,” provides a valuable guide for approaching difficult conversations about race with children and youth. Her newly launched self-paced course, “Protecting Our Children Together: Building a Positive Racial Identity in Children and Youth,” offers further support on the importance of initiating these conversations early and provides practical strategies for doing so in a way that promotes good mental health.
Let us embrace Black History Month’s theme of Black Resistance by educating and empowering young people to become resilient and proud of their heritage. By talking to young people about race in a manner that promotes self-esteem and positive self-identity, we can contribute to the ongoing resistance against the pervasive effects of racism. The book and course “Protecting Our Children Together” teaches us how to have these challenging discussions in a way that builds confidence and dignity. It is time to create a better future for all by fostering a healthy racial identity in children and youth.