Socially conscious kids: One in 12 parents say their teen has protested racism, police brutality

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — This year has been tough on everyone, but today’s teenagers have been impacted by 2020 in a unique way. One’s teenage years are supposed to be about self-discovery, new experiences, and making life-long memories. Instead, modern teens have seen proms, parties, and graduation ceremonies cancelled in favor of Zoom sessions and virtual get-togethers. All of that certainly isn’t fair, but a survey released by the University of Michigan finds a significant number of U.S. teens aren’t just twiddling their thumbs with all their new found free time. One in 12 parents say their teen has attended an event, protest, or rally regarding racism or police reform this year.

The research also notes a variety of racial differences regarding how parents are addressing these complex and delicate issues with their teenage children. While 75 percent of parents say they’ve discussed the recent protests with their kids, Black parents are more likely to have a focused, in-depth discussion with their kids (39%) in comparison to white parents (29%). African American teens are also more likely to have attended a protest regarding racism this year (16%) than white teens (6%).

The poll, conducted by C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, surveyed 1,025 parents with children between the ages of 13 and 18.

“Many families are engaging around the topic of racism and what’s been happening in the country over recent months, with one in three white parents and two in five Black parents having deep conversations about the protests with their teens,” says Mott Poll co-director Sarah Clark, M.P.H., in a university release. “Parents may have seen their teen showing a more complex interest in the world around them and a substantial number of these young people appear to have moved beyond discussion to taking action.”

Over four in 10 parents have at least had some type of discussion with their kids about the social issues that have boiled to the surface in 2020. Conversely, 27 percent of families have avoided these tough conversations altogether.

Do parents support their child’s right to protest?

So, it’s clear that the youth of today want to get more involved in society’s problems and solutions, but how are American parents feeling about all this activism? Most are in favor of their teen getting involved; with 55 percent supporting their child’s participation wholeheartedly. Thirty-eight percent support their kids, but have some reservations about their actions. On the other end of the spectrum, just five percent disapprove of their child protesting and two percent didn’t even know that their teen has attended an event.

Circling back tor racial differences, Caucasian parents are much more likely (57%) to believe teens shouldn’t be at these protests than Black parents (31%).

Many of these parents are concerned for their teens’ safety at these demonstrations. Nearly three in four (73%) worry these protests will become violent, and 58 percent are concerned the police may become aggressive toward protestors. White parents (76%) worry more about violence at protests than Black parents (62%), but African Americans are more concerned about police brutality toward protestors (77% versus 49%).

Close to half of respondents (45%) worry their teen just doesn’t understand the potential repercussions of attending a rally. Some worry their child will be arrested (39%) and others think their child does not understand his or her legal rights (35%).

“We saw substantial racial differences involving views on who might instigate violence at a demonstration,” Clark adds. “Black parents are much more concerned than white parents about the use of force by police while white parents are more concerned about the demonstrators becoming violent. This may reflect parents’ own experiences, as well as the influence of media portrayals of the demonstrations and the events leading up to them.”

Nearly half of all white parents say their teen doesn’t understand how hard it is to be a police officer (46%). Some Black parents (21%) shared this same sentiment. The same percentage (21%) of Caucasian adults think these protests show a lack of respect toward police. That number is only 13 percent among African Americans.

Stressful conversations

Overall, surveyed Black parents are much more likely to believe the topic of police brutality and reform is extremely stressful for their teen. While only a quarter of white parents say that thinking about police brutality stresses out their child. Exactly half of Black parents say the same.

“The higher stress level reported by Black parents is understandable. The demonstrations highlighted numerous Black victims of police violence, and Black teens may see themselves at risk,” Clark explains. “Many Black parents have difficult conversations with their children from early on about how racism may impact their lives.”

“Our poll findings reflect families’ different lived experiences and perspectives. These experiences will likely shape parents’ views on their teens being involved in demonstrations and other actions to address systemic racism,” she concludes.

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