We need no celebrated or veteran psychologist, sociologist or educator to tell us that Black children within the United States are in crisis. As you read this, one-third of Black children live below the federal government-defined poverty line; For every white child enduring physical and/or sexual abuse, two Black children suffer the same torment; 72% of Black children live in single-parent homes; According to the Huffington Post, “Suicide rates among African-American elementary-aged children have doubled” since the 1990s; And we are all familiar with the issues of body image and self-esteem confronting Black youth (especially our girls). For a reminder, view the clip of Kiri Davis’ documentary “A Girl Like Me” below:
These troubling statistics are just the tip of the iceberg when describing the state of our children. Taken together, these statistics help explain the deep bitterness, abandonment, depression, cultural confusion, and hopelessness felt by many Black youth. And while we cannot say these feelings describe all Black youth, they do describe a significant percentage of the population.
Childhood, a time of happiness, exploration and carefree experiences, is all too often a time of trauma and despair for too many Black children and youth. Yet there are things we can do right in our homes to truly empower and adequately prepare our children. Many resources already exist that describe these various problems in detail. This article will provide suggestions for how to combat these problems.
- If your budget allows, enroll your child in an independent, African-centered school or homeschoool.
- Begin with the powerful question, “What type of adult do I want to produce for the future? This question and your answer to it, will help you immensely.
- Create routines, standards, expectations and activities that stem from the first suggestion.
- Facilitate your child’s natural curiosity and intelligence by exposing them to empowering experiences, places and information.
- Encourage your child to ask questions, and teach them to do the research/investigation/observation necessary to answer them.
- Find various ways to tell and show your child that you love them, they are valuable, and full of positive potential.
- Discourage your child from feeling entitled or becoming shallow and materialistic, by refusing to accomplish point 5 using only toys, money, and trips to the mall.
- Accomplish point 5 by using hugs, kisses, big smiles, increased responsibilities/freedoms, and positive words.
- Create a system of discipline that is fair, empowering, and light on beatings. Beatings, if done at all, should be rare. Instead teach your child early on to make good choices and to understand the effects of their actions and choices. Explain in words they understand, why certain rules or expectations exist. Enforce your system of discipline consistently! Mixed messages and inconsistency completely sabotage efforts at discipline.
- No set of parents can prepare a child in every manner. Therefore, seek out trustworthy, wise and empowering adults to serve as mentors for your child in areas where you are not so skilled or knowledgeable. This is especially important concerning the topic of career preparation. Also use our history and knowledge of ancestors as a form of mentorship to instill pride and hope in your child.
- Every now and then switch roles with your child or have them impersonate you. This can help you identify things you’re doing right, and things you might need to tweak. It also helps your child understand that you are preparing them to assume your role one day. Warning: this can lead to tears, laughter and great SHOCK!
- Encourage the fine habit of reading in your child. You can do this by having them choose books they like in the bookstore, getting them a library card and making regular library visits, and reading to/with them at a set time every day.
- Find fun and creative ways for your child to voice their concerns and feelings (respectfully). This world takes advantage of the timid and inarticulate. Teach them therefore to explain themselves clearly, advocate for themselves, and voice their opinions. The information you gain from this will also make you a more empowering and informed parent. You must also explain to them that some things are non-negotiable…..
- Shield your child from negative (and potentially traumatic) people, music, movie scenes, and experiences when they are little children (0-12). Certain things children should not have exposure to. Don’t feel guilty for telling your child “This movie, song, or YouTube video is inappropriate for you,” asking them to leave temporarily, shutting off the television/music, or changing the current activity as you see fit.Alternatively, you can also watch such shows or listen to such songs with them and raise questions…
- Be loving and empathetic with your child without acting like their friend. You are an authority figure to them whether you like it or not. When you blur the line between parent and buddy, you sabotage your role as an authority, send mixed messages, and set your child up to later disrespect and resent you.
- When it becomes necessary to punish your child, do so in ways that teach and reinforce the relevant principle. Grounding a child, reducing their responsibilities/mobility, creating new chores, revoking certain privileges, or cancelling events all have their place in a healthy system of discipline. You want to make sure the disciplinary method is consistent with their violation however.
- Prepare your child for crisis. Have emergency drills regularly where you teach them how to call and communicate with 911 for example.
- Encourage your child to be in touch with their own moods, emotions, and reasons for their actions or choices. Developing this kind of intra-personal skill can prevent serious anger management, depression and other emotional issues for them later.
- Try to identify and facilitate your child’s unique gifts, skills and interests. You can often do this through conversation, playing games, and closely observing them when they’re alone and interacting with others. Let them learn to appreciate why they are valuable and special. Also teach them the importance or rehearsing, practicing, and fine-tuning their talents. The success, accomplishment and lessons they learn from this will guard against inadequacy and insecurity issues later on. Become familiar with the nine forms of intelligence so you can recognize them in your child.
- Don’t allow your child to be an idle couch potato or comatose video-game addict. Create opportunities for them to play outside, join a team, and learn to be sociable.
- Have high and empowering expectations for your child. Read about the Pygmalion Effect and how influential our expectations are Check out the brief video clip below.
21. Pardon me for plugging my own work, but I strongly suggest you purchase and use my book “Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens.” It is an excellent tool for helping your teen develop into a mature, responsible and empowered adult.
Agyei Tyehimba is an educator, activist and author from Harlem, N.Y. Agyei is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. In 2013, he wrote The Blueprint: A BSU Handbook, teaching Black student activists how to organize and protest. In April of 2014, he released Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. Agyei has appeared on C-Span, NY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, “The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” In addition to speaking and teaching people how to organize, Agyei is part of the Black Power Cypher, five Black male educators and activists from around the country who do a monthly internet teleconference on issues from a Black Nationalist perspective.
Agyei earned his Bachelor’s Degree in sociology from Syracuse University, his Master’s Degree in Africana Studies from Cornell University, and his Master’s Degree in Afro-American Studies from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.