Itasca, Ill.—The killing of George Floyd and the subsequent protests across the country have laid bare the nation’s legacy of racism and discrimination and the ways it harms all members of our communities. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) condemns racism of all forms, and notes that even vicarious racism – witnessed through social media, conversations with friends or family, or media images – harms children’s health.
“Racism harms children’s health, starting from before they are born," said AAP President Sally Goza, MD, FAAP. “A growing body of research supports this, and we cannot ignore the impact.”
The AAP recommends parents proactively engage their children around these traumatic events, taking into account their age and development.
“As a parent, you have to assume children of almost any age are hearing about what is happening in our nation today,” said Nia Heard-Garris, MD, MSc, FAAP, chair of the AAP Section on Minority Health, Equity and Inclusion. “Ideally you can talk with your child first before they hear the news from other sources, and help to frame the events in an age-appropriate way. Parents should be having these conversations now.”
Children may hear adult conversations, see a video on social media platforms, or watch news coverage of violent protests. Children may be fearful about their own safety or their family’s safety, or have questions about what the protests mean, or why people have been killed by police.
Dr. Heard-Garris and Jacqueline Dougé, MD, MPH, FAAP, co-author of the AAP policy statement on racism, recommend:
“Parents can acknowledge that people are treated differently based on the color of their skin and where they live, and share examples of this happening,” said Dr. Douge. “Parents can also model how to make a positive difference. For example, perhaps your family can call your city council person or superintendent to advocate for issues faced by communities of color. Adults can also confront their own bias and model how they want their children to respond to others who may be different than them.”
The AAP holds that racism harms everyone, including children of all races and ethnicities. It is not a conversation that can be avoided, said Joseph Wright, MD, MPH, FAAP, a member of the AAP Board of Directors and past chair of the AAP Task Force on Addressing Bias and Discrimination.
“These are conversations African-American families have had to have for generations,” said Dr. Wright. “But if this is not something other families have discussed yet, what is happening right now is an essential and unavoidable, teachable moment. If we are to progress in this country, it’s going to be because we help our children, adolescents and young adults learn not just that racism exists, but that it is something all of us can work together to dismantle. Racism is not inexorable.”
In 2019, AAP published the policy statement, "Racism and Its Impact on Child and Adolescent Health.” In it the AAP lays out an agenda calling for equitable policies at the local, state and federal level to reduce disparities and advance social justice.
“Failure to address racism will undermine our progress toward health equity. As an organization dedicated to the health and well-being of children, adolescents and young adults, it is in our mission as the American Academy of Pediatrics to fight all forms of racism,” Dr. Goza said. “We must dismantle racism at every level, from individual to institutional to systemic. Our nation did not get here overnight, and the road to progress and healing will be long and difficult, but the work we have before us is essential. Our children’s future will be built on these moments of reckoning.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 67,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults. For more information, visit www.aap.org and follow us on Twitter @AmerAcadPeds