How Do We Explain Societal Changes to Offspring?

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It may seem almost impossible to exist in our present society where our past mistakes — which were previously acceptable behaviors — may be caught in various forms of social media.

Many populations were routinely discriminated against, and it was accepted as normal and OK. What do we tell our children and grandchildren about our past behaviors that embarrass us and why they were wrong? How do we ensure we raise them to be accepting, understanding adults?

We have seen a number of past negative behaviors finally being addressed. The use of blackface is one that has been in the news lately.

Back in the early 1900s, blackface was a popular way white people disparagingly depicted black Americans in theater and in movies. Recently, a number of white entertainers and politicians have been called out for using blackface in the past. Rather than offer sincere apologies, many have offered nothing but excuses and justifications or have remained completely silent on the matter. What message does this send to young minds?

Another haven of bad behavior that is being examined is college Greek life. Increasingly, fraternities and sororities are being scrutinized due to tragic deaths that have occurred because of hazing and other reckless behaviors.

How many grandparents and parents engaged in similar behaviors that they now hide from their children and grandchildren? Luckily for many of us, social media didn’t exist, so many of our secrets may remain hidden while we lecture our children to behave better and petition colleges to either end Greek life or propose sanctions on unacceptable and harmful behaviors. We have to raise confident children who know when to say no and how to stand up for themselves when being goaded to participate in behavior that is detrimental to themselves or others.

How do we explain to our children the abusive behaviors of men toward women that have led to the rise of the #MeToo movement? How do we explain the societal expectations that forced many of our grandmothers who strived to be in other professions but were usually only permitted to be teachers, nurses and stay-at-home mothers? How many members of the LGBTQ community were forced to hide in the shadows from their employers, friends and family members out of fear of discrimination?

The simple answer is that discrimination based on someone’s skin color, gender or sexual identity is wrong.

Blackface is no longer acceptable because it is a harmful and an inaccurate representation. That danger from Greek life has become recognized by multiple voices in society and dramatic change is warranted.

The #MeToo movement has gained power because of the brave men and women who were willing to come forward and take a chance to challenge powerful leaders in business and entertainment. We live in an exciting and also difficult time, where we can only explain situations and changes to the best of our ability.

Maybe the best lesson we can teach our children is that while change for the better often happens in small, sometimes painful, steps, it always depends on the strength and integrity of brave men and women.

Marcy Shoemaker, Psy.D., is a psychologist at Abramson Center.

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