Talking to my Child About Charlotte's Protests and Violence

Making sense of this tipping point in Charlotte and how it affects all ages.

I listened to the robo-message from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools superintendent Ann Clark about 9 o'clock last night, after both my boys were safely tucked in bed.

"Yesterday's tragic shooting has left adults and children in our community sad, frightened and angry. Some students may need help processing and managing their feelings," is how it began.

In the minute-long voicemail, Clark went on to talk about how teachers and staff, not only keep students physically safe, but are taking time to support students as they "express and explore their feelings and ask questions." Counselors are available, she said. 

After a day of sitting at my desk, reading headlines and overhearing Charlotte Magazine writer Adam Rhew, who was at Tuesday night's Old Concord Road protest and who sits on the other side of my cubical wall, talk about the scene of violence, tear gas and mayhem, Ann Clark's message reminded me that the kids' are listening and watching, too.

What's going on out there is more than community chatter and angst. It is a tipping point in Charlotte that affects our children today, and can shape the city where they are growing up for years to come.

I didn't bring up the news of the day Wednesday night with my 7-year-old. We didn't turn on the TV. I knew more protesting was happening uptown while we as a family went through the routine of dinner, baths, reading and bedtime. After my oldest was asleep, I went back into his bedroom to check on him, and just gaze for a minute. So peaceful at sleep.

It occurs to me how he and his little brother are just like other kids, but they happen to be white males. That makes a difference in our society even though it shouldn't. Their paths are clearer than some of their friends who have other skin colors, particularly brown.

Neither my boys, or any others out there, chose their skin color. They were born innocent into this world, but quickly kids are cast into the society's long established molds: black versus white, boys versus girls, rich versus poor.

I read the news before I went to bed on my phone. One person shot in the protests uptown. Looting at Time Warner Cable Arena. What started peaceful at Marshall Park erupted into more. Reactions from police, reactions from protestors. A lot of fear and angst pushing the tide of people's emotions. When I hear all the uproar in media reports, I get frustrated at the hysteria. It fuels the fire. But there were nonviolent protestors who made the point that every person is a person, who has a mom, a grandma and family.

This morning on the way to school, my 7-year-old mentioned he'd overheard his dad and a neighbor talking about "the police stuff happening uptown." I asked him what he heard. "A policeman shot another man." That was all.

I opened the conversation. We discussed the situation on a basic level (if there is such a thing when it comes to discussing a shooting where a father of seven is killed). I explained that a policeman went to serve a warrant (and even explained what a warrant is), and another man got out of his car in the parking lot where the policeman was. I tried to objectively explain both sides reports. I also told him, the story isn't complete, facts aren't gathered. I never mentioned either's skin color. 

Then I stopped. I already felt like I'd given him more information than he needed to know. What matters is why these shootings are happening, but that's more than I am ready to load into his mind.

Instead, I told him to remember to always be kind and to appreciate the differences in people. Recognize that the kid you keep telling me is talking too much and getting everyone in the class in trouble, might be having a bad day. It's no good to blame the other one, but be accountable for your actions. Treat others like you want to be treated.

I also talked to him about guns and how dangerous they are. I told him to use his words when he's angry or sad with a friend, me or his dad, or anyone. We teach our kids this starting at very young age, but I believe many adults need to remember this lesson.

As we waited in the carpool line, I told him again "remember to be kind." I told myself the same thing. 

At the end of Superintendent Clark's message, she said "I have worked with CMS for more than 30 years. Over and over, I have seen our community come together and address tough and divisive issues productively. I believe this community has the will and ability to do this now. Please join me in showing our children and the nation we can stand together peacefully."

Mrs. Clark, I couldn't agree more. No matter what skin color we have, we are all part of the Charlotte community and an even larger group — humanity.

We posted these tips before, and sadly, I share again as it's happening in my hometown: Helping Children Cope With Violence in the News.