Racism Harms Children’s Mental Health

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Kid's Doctor

Posted on September 28, 2013 at 5:01 AM

Updated Saturday, Sep 28 at 5:01 AM

The word racism elicits a deep emotional response from people. There have been many societal changes since the Civil Rights Act was enacted in the 60s. As a nation we can be proud of the fact that we no longer have segregated diners, movie theaters and water fountains. We have an African-American President and members in Congress. Latinos are making headway in holding important political and corporate positions. Our television shows, newscast and movies are more diversified. Yes, there have been great strides made in our American society as a whole, progress that we can be proud of. But you can’t legislate people’s minds and hearts.

In the realm of personal interactions, we still haven’t quite found our way. Day-to-day communication with and acceptance of each other’s cultures and differences plays out in a variety of ways. When our distance from and misunderstanding of each other impart unkind or misinformed judgments, we hurt each other. You may want to believe that racism is rare or simply not expressed any more, but in today’s reality, adults and children still experience racism and its painful consequences.

While adults may have better coping skills because they’ve had more life experiences, children don’t fare as well.

Being a victim of racism may trigger poor mental health, depression and anxiety in children and teens, according to a new review. Researchers examined 461 cases of links between racism and the health and wellbeing of youngsters.

“The review showed there are strong and consistent relationships between racial discrimination and a range of detrimental health outcomes such as low self-esteem, reduced resilience, increased behavior problems and lower levels of well-being,” lead researcher Naomi Priest, of the University of Melbourne in Australia, said in a university news release.

Most of the racism experienced by children and teens involved discrimination by other people, as opposed to institutional or systemic racism, according to the findings.

A majority of the studies reviewed were conducted in the United States with children aged 12 to 18 years old. The three most common races detailed in the studies were Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians.

“We know that children who experience poor health and well-being are less likely to engage in education, employment and other activities that support them to lead healthy and productive lives, and to participate meaningfully in the community,” Priest said.

Sometimes children make comments that are hurtful because they aren’t exposed to other children of different races and cultures. They may ask a question that seems perfectly logical to them but is hurtful or rude if you’re on the receiving end. That’s a failure on a parent’s part for not providing information on the differences of people in our multi-racial and cultural society.

How can you help your child grow in understanding of people who look and act differently than them? One way is to expose your child to different cultures and people. Look at your child’s environment and see how many children and adults look different than you and your family. Is everyone pretty much the same race, in the same social economic group, the same religious group? To quote civilrights.org, “many of us still live lives of racial and economic isolation.” 

Children aren’t born prejudiced and judgmental – they learn it either by the example of others around them or through little or no interaction with people different from them.

The report included in this article was published in the October issue of the journal Social Science and Medicine.

If you’re looking for resources with information on talking to your child about racism and diversity, civilrights.org offers excellent guidelines and insight.

Sources: http://news.health.com/2013/09/22/racism-takes-a-toll-on-kids-mental-health-research-shows

http://www.civilrights.org/publications/reports/talking_to_our_children/

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