How some Asian-American parents are broaching discussions of recent racist attacks with their kids

Rachel Grumman Bender
·6-min read
ATLANTA, March 20, 2021 -- A girl protests hate crimes against Asian Americans in Atlanta, Georgia, the United States, March 20, 2021. Hundreds of protesters of all ages and ethnicities gathered Saturday in Atlanta, Georgia, to protest hate crimes against Asian Americans, days after multiple shootings in and around the city killed eight people, among whom six were Asian women. (Photo by XiaoHeng Wang/Xinhua via Getty) (Xinhua/XiaoHeng Wan via Getty Images)
A girl protests anti-Asian hate crimes in Atlanta, Georgia, after a gunman shot and killed eight people, including six were Asian women, in the area. Now parents are grappling with how to discuss such hate crimes with their children. (Photo: Xinhua/XiaoHeng Wan via Getty Images)

In the aftermath of the shootings in Atlanta where eight people, including six Asian-American women, were killed, many parents across the country are having difficult conversations with their kids about the recent anti-Asian attacks, which are on the rise in the U.S.

According to the nonprofit Stop AAPI Hate’s latest data, the organization received nearly 3,800 reports of anti-Asian hate incidents — ranging from verbal and online harassment to physical assault — from 47 states and the District of Columbia between March 19, 2020 and February 28, 2021 alone. Women were also more than twice as likely to report incidents than men.

Mu-En Steeg, a mom of three in San Mateo, Calif., calls the Atlanta shootings “horrifying," and tells Yahoo Life, “I’m incredibly sad for the victims and their loved ones. I’m simply heartbroken for the children left behind by the senseless losses.”

While Steeg didn’t discuss what happened in Atlanta with her 10 year old, she did talk to her 15- and 17-year-old kids about it. “Unfortunately, these horrific acts are happening more often and with the internet, news travels quickly, so even a shooting in Atlanta feels close here in California,” says Steeg. “In the past, we’ve discussed how there are and will always be people of all backgrounds who will have prejudiced views about another race or group of people, but ultimately, most people are good and kind.”

Related: Experts warn of mental health impact, anti-Asian hate crimes

Angela Lu, a mom of three who lives in Palo Alto, Calif., was shaken by the shootings, but didn’t specifically discuss it with her young children. “I have to admit that we do somewhat intentionally shelter our kids from age-inappropriate information such as mass shootings,” Lu tells Yahoo Life. However, she shares that the tragedy served as an opportunity for Lu and her husband to talk to their kids “about how to respect cultural differences and beliefs, how to handle racism that they likely will experience in the future, and stand up to racism if they see it.”

A scene from a rally to raise awareness of anti-Asian violence in Los Angeles on March 13. (Photo: RINGO CHIU/AFP via Getty Images)
A scene from a rally to raise awareness of anti-Asian violence in Los Angeles on March 13. (Photo: RINGO CHIU/AFP via Getty Images)

Kids may have a lot of questions as they try to make sense of violent incidents like the shooting in Atlanta. For some kids, “the sudden spike in crimes and then just the sheer violence of it” can be “confusing,” Tiffany Yip, PhD, a professor of psychology at Fordham University, tells Yahoo Life. She notes that kids may ask: “‘Why would someone do that?’ The next sort of question that comes up is, ‘Am I safe? Is my family safe?’ Those sorts of questions are unsettling. It’s just a really confusing time.”

Steeg says that her teenagers are handling the news “as best they can.” “My kids have told my 83-year-old Taiwanese mother that they will accompany her on her daily walks in the neighborhood and will not let her walk alone,” she shares. “I’m proud of my children for taking care of their elderly Ah-ma, but I’m sad that our world has come to this — where an old lady is not safe to go out alone and take a walk.”

While Steeg has discussed racism against the Black community with her kids, she says she hadn’t specifically discussed Asian-American racism with her children until now. “As a first-generation Taiwanese immigrant, of course I have personally experienced racism,” Steeg shares.

Yip suggests “being open and prepared if your child comes to you” to talk about it. For example, if you’re in the car or at home with your child and they hear the news on the radio or on TV, you can bring it up by saying, “‘Have you seen this incident?’” says Yip. “‘How does it make you feel? Do you want to chat about it?’”

If it doesn’t come up, Yip still encourages parents to start the conversation. “Even if they’re not yet aware of it, they're going to hear about it at school or hear about it in their social media feeds,” says Yip. She suggests saying something like, “‘Some terrible things have been happening in our country recently, would you like to talk about it?’ Or, ‘I read this in the newspaper today.’”

Yip says that, while it’s important for Asian parents and families to have these age-appropriate conversations with their kids about anti-Asian hate incidents, she says it’s “equally important for all families to be having these conversations.” For non-Asian parents, Yip says the conversation can also focus around allyship, talking about what it means to be an ally and what that looks like at school, in the lunchroom, and on the school bus. Most kids already know about “bystander intervention” when it comes to bullying, so Yip suggests using that as a starting point to talk about standing up for others. “They know that bullying is wrong and it’s making that connection to issues of race,” says Yip, “and being able to draw on other lessons they learned about bullying. They already know the concept. Ask them to make the connection.”

For younger children, Sesame Street’s Sesame Workshop just launched “The ABC’s of Racial Literacy” on March 23, which provides resources to help parents have age-appropriate conversations with their children about race and standing up for others.

But Yip points out that, when it comes to talking to kids about racism and allyship, “It’s not one conversation.” She says, “It’s an evolving conversation as your child matures,” adding: “Their brains are developing and their experiences are broadening, so thinking about how all these create opportunities to build on these conversations as they age.”

For Steeg, she hopes that the recent anti-Asian incidents “cause people to pause and think about how we are not so different from each other, but rather that we all have more in common than we think.” She says, “What I want for my children is the same as my friends who are Caucasian, Black, Indian, Latina, Hispanic, Jewish, Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, and Islamic — we all want to give our children a safe place to live and grow, the best educational opportunities, good friends, and a happy childhood. I’m doing my best to raise my children, just as the women who perished in the Atlantic shooting tried to do for their children. My hope is that our divided country will come together and have more healthy discussions rather than vilify someone because they have different opinions.”

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