Child Experts: What to Say About Verdict

Child therapists say the verdict creates an opportunity to talk to our sons about history.

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Carothers said children need to learn that scary things happen that will make them feel angry and sad, but if they talk about it, and articulate their feelings, it will help alleviate some of the anxiety. Being present for those conversations is key. Dr. Taliba M. Foster, a child psychiatrist who practices in both Philadelphia and New York, encourages parents to disengage their black son from all forms of traditional and social media if the child is seriously affected by the verdict.

“I try to help the parent control how the traumatic event is affecting their family. You can’t get [that calmness] from outside sources.

“Isolate your child from the onslaught of media. Clips of people ‘Trayvoning.’ Different perspectives that are not helpful and really scary for kids,” Foster said. That also means tempering yourself when speaking about Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman with your adult friends while your son is nearby.

“A child is going to react based on how they see their parent react. You have to present yourself as calm,” Carothers said. Parents should tell their sons that they don’t have control over everything, but “we can make some decisions to make sure you’re safe if you’re ever in a similar situation,” she explained. She calls it the “safety conversation” for black males — that holds that black boys need to be extra-vigilant — that has made national news since Trayvon’s death 16 months ago.

Chavis said to reassure your black son that he is a good person. “Your child has to know from the very beginning that you will always protect them and keep them safe.

You have every right to be scared. Do not deny your fear. And yet at the same time, know that there are some things you can do to manage your fear,” he advised that parents tell their sons. 

The Law Does Not Always Factor in Morality

The judicial system is complex and verdicts do not necessarily reflect the moral consensus on any given issue. One of the jurors in the Zimmerman murder trial — Juror B37 — initially wanted to write a book about her experiences (she’s not anymore), and in a dated statement released by her former literary agent, she referenced the dissonance she experienced during the trial as she weighed the evidence, writing that “despite one’s personal viewpoints, it is [important] to follow the letter of the law.”

Some of her peer jurors released a statement distancing themselves from some of the statements Juror B37 made to the media, which demonstrates the diversity that exists among white people, a diversity of opinion with which young black males should be familiar, experts say.

“Look around you — not all white people are like [Zimmerman],” Chavis said a parent might tell their son.

Because verdicts are decided by ordinary people from different walks of life, and people interpret the law and circumstances differently, Carothers said it is important to let your son know that the verdict is not a mandate on the issue.  

“We don’t know if the verdict would be different if the jury was more diverse,” Carothers said.

Experts say parents should avail themselves to their black sons on a continual basis to pick apart different current events that lend themselves to discussions about race, safety and more importantly, cultivating a healthy perception of one’s own self.

Diana Ozemebhoya Eromosele is an editorial fellow at The Root and the founder and executive producer of Lectures to Beats, a nonscripted Web show that examines culture. Follow her on Twitter.