It’s been a little more than two weeks since Chicago police shot and killed 13-year-old Adam Toledo in Little Village, and yesterday the city saw the release of the footage from the firing officer’s body cam.
“Certainly for older kids, this is a conversation and this is video footage that parents are not going to be able to protect them from as easily,” said Dr. Nia Heard-Garris, a researcher and physician at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
Heard-Garris also studies vicarious racism. “Even if you’re not the person that is impacted by racism or you’re not the person that was shot, you seeing these images, hearing about these stories, impacts you as well,” she said.
Reset sat down with Heard-Garris to discuss how to talk to kids and teens about the killing of Adam Toledo, the video and the systemic problem with police shootings across the country.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
On whether young children should watch the video
For really young kids, it’s almost best to really try to shelter them from the footage, because it can be traumatic. It’s violent, and it’s hard to understand as a six- or seven-year-old why this is happening. Police are supposed to keep you safe.
Our personal choice at home is to not share that footage. We absolutely talk about race and we absolutely talk about racism as an ongoing conversation in our house.
On how to watch the video with teenagers
For an older kid, a 16-year-old who may have actually seen this footage, it’s traumatic. So I would really recommend that you watch it together as a family. If they really want to see the video or you think it’s important for them to see the video, you should be there as the parent right there with them, watching it and preparing them before they see it.
And for many teens and adolescents, parents are not going to have that opportunity at all. It might pop up on their phone or be on their timeline, so then you have to kind of do a debrief afterwards.
Really sit and talk about how they’re feeling: “Hey, there’s a lot of talk about Adam Toledo. Have you heard anything? And, if so, what have you heard? Have you seen anything? If so, let’s talk about it.”
On how parents can prepare for these conversations
My main advice is to put your oxygen mask on first. That is so important, and especially in a time like right now.
It is OK to not be OK with all the things that are happening. But you got to take care of yourself first. So whether that’s talking to friends, whether that’s therapy, whether that’s not watching the video — which is an option — disconnecting from social media, you have to take care of yourself first. And then, after you do that, engaging your kids and [your loved ones] to try to help them through this time.
There are a lot of websites [to help you talk to your kids]. One I like in particular: Embrace Race, which helps parents and caregivers navigate these really tough conversations.
On what educators can do to help their students
Educators have such an important role. They are seeing our kids for most of the day. They’re helping to shepherd and mold them into the grown ups that they’re going to become. And so, with that, they have a great opportunity to take time.
Instead of doing math or calculus for that day, maybe you hold space. You hold space for silence. You hold space for being able to talk and share emotions. You invite the school counselor, and you do things that are going to promote the healing of your students and not gloss over it like they should carry on.
On whether to encourage your child to live out their dreams as a police officer
A lot of kids when they grow up want to be a police officer, a firefighter or an astronaut — all of those big dreams. And on the one hand, you want to encourage your child to do whatever it is they want to do. It’s such a noble and an important profession, and you’re risking your life to protect and serve others. At the same time, you are concerned deeply about the role of policing within your communities and within communities of color.
But for kids, I think [it’s important to have] a conversation about the ideal state of what police officers are intended to do and what they should do for the community. Then have a realistic conversation if your child is aware: “Well, mom, you said that police officers are supposed to protect and serve, but this is the fifth story I’ve heard and this is another video I’ve seen where that didn’t happen. What’s going on?”
You can use it as a conversation to say, “Yes, you could be the change. You can help usher this in,” and support them still in pursuing their dreams while also telling them the reality of our world.