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Tips for Families Facing Hate Speech and Mass Shootings

Mass shootings. Hate speech. Racist rhetoric. How do you even begin explaining these concepts to your kids -- especially when the targets of this hate look a lot like your family?

Like it did for many Latino families, the El Paso mass shooting hit home. It seems families like mine are being targeted in the most hateful way. I'm a naturalized citizen from Venezuela, my husband is Mexican American from El Paso, and my two sons were born in the United States. The El Paso gunman and extremist hate speech being echoed in the dark corners of the internet continue to change our reality and shape my children's future. This reality may not be new, but it's more fueled than ever and challenges parents to find ways to talk with their children about what they're seeing, hearing, and experiencing online and off.

Communities across the nation are feeling pain, sadness, grief, outrage, and frustration that stem from feeling powerless over tragic events fueled by hate. Helping kids navigate media and tech and define their place in our families, in our communities, and online is more essential than ever. Here are some tips that may be helpful when talking to your kids.

Share some hope and celebrate diversity. Be proud of who you are and pass it down to your kids. Show your kids that diversity, that meeting and learning about people from all different backgrounds, enriches your life and your community. Share the fact that the United States is increasingly diverse, with 40 million people born in another country and more than 50% of kids in public schools in the U.S. belonging to a minority group. Diversity should be celebrated and is what makes communities stronger. Media can be a great support for this.

Resist isolating. Lean in to your emotions. Reach out to your family, friends, and community, share your experience, and keep talking. If you belong to a faith-based community, find out if they're offering extra support for families. If you or someone in your family is undocumented, look to community organizations or legal groups who are offering help.

Talk to your kids as much as they're interested in talking. Use reliable news sources to have a meaningful discussion with your kids. Refer to current events in the news to spark discussion. Make sure that you include points of view of ethnic media outlets or reporters who belong to minority groups to have a more complete understanding. Here's an article on how to explain the news to your kids and one on the impact of media violence on kids.

Focus on what connects us all. Whether you are first-generation or fifth-generation American, most of us have roots as immigrants. Books, movies, and your family history are great tools to educate your kid about immigrants in America and their role in building this country.

Try unplugging for a little while. Limit the time you and your family spend on social media platforms. Some days it might be better to disconnect and focus your energy and attention on meaningful discussions or relaxing times with your loved ones.

To combat hate, talk to your kids about peace and what that means for them. Have conversations about what it means for you to have a peaceful life. Explore ideas with your kids. Encourage them to respect others' opinions, beliefs, and lifestyles. Here are some books you can read with kids about racism and social justice, the Holocaust, diversity, and the immigrant experience.

Encourage your teens to build community. Ask your teenagers to add their voices offline or on with other youth who are feeling the same. Knowing and feeling that they are not alone, and having a sense of belonging and community, can help them navigate these challenges.

Maria Oxalide Alvarez

Maria O. Alvarez is the former vice president for family and community engagement at Common Sense. She created and led Common Sense Latino, as well as the family and community engagement team. Maria is passionate about connecting with families and responding to their unique media and technology needs, and empowering them to navigate the digital world with confidence. She is the proud mom of two bilingual and bicultural boys.