How to Talk About the News of Family Separations at the Border

With nonstop news and social media coverage, kids may need help understanding what's happening. By Maria O Alvarez
How to Talk About the News of Family Separations at the Border

I never had to cross the border by risking my life in the desert or jumping over "La Bestia," the Mexican "Death Train" many Central Americans use to get to the U.S. to seek a better life. But I know that being an immigrant -- even when you don't experience desperate situations -- is difficult and complicated. The news in recent days has made me angry, sad, and frustrated -- and I know I'm not alone. I'm outraged by the sounds, images, and videos pouring across social media and on the news detailing the experiences of more than 2,300 children who have been separated from their parents at the southern United States border. And our kids are paying attention, too.

Media coverage, from nightly news to Facebook fundraisers, has exposed our kids to the horrific situation, and while it's important for families to understand the actions of its government, kids -- on both sides of the border -- need care and attention during difficult times.

When I heard the voice of Alison, a 6-year-old Salvadorian girl, on the audio ProPublica obtained, I cried and immediately thought how desperate her mother would be. My youngest son is also 6, and I can't even imagine having him ripped away from me. This humanitarian crisis is directly traumatizing thousands of kids, as well as many more who are seeing this horrific display unfold on social media and in the news. These immigrant children were told that they were coming to a place where they would have the hope, safety, and opportunities they can't have in their countries of origin. Now they're going through an experience that will likely have lasting negative consequences, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics and other medical groups.

Nobody risks their own life and the lives of their most important treasures -- their kids -- because they want to. These families come from dangerous places, where basic needs such as shelter and food are very difficult to meet. It's the unbearable poverty and violence that push them to risk their lives. A significant number of these families come from countries in Central America, like Honduras. I lived in Honduras for four years, and the level of poverty, despair, and hopelessness families face is nearly impossible to describe.

Whatever your political stance, this issue is one of basic human rights. We are all navigating these difficult days with our families, bombarded by newscasts and social media, and you may be struggling to discuss unfamiliar topics or looking for ways to take action. We hope these tips can help.

As a family you can:

Talk and listen. In the middle of this crisis, your kids may bring up what's happening. Listen to find out what they know, share your thoughts and feelings, and let them do the same. For advice on how to talk to your kids about difficult subjects, check out our age-by-age advice.

Reinforce the importance of empathy, acceptance, and respect. What we're seeing in newscasts and on social media is alarming and heartbreaking. Have conversations about the importance of respecting and tolerating people who are different from us. Share books about the immigrant experience to help kids understand different perspectives.

Look within your family and look around, too. Are you an immigrant yourself? Do you come from an immigrant family? Talk about your family history. Be in touch with your relatives. If you're not an immigrant, look around and see who in your networks or among your kids' friends are immigrants and might need additional support during this time. Find ways for younger kids to tell their family's stories; these storytelling apps can help.

Think about the news sources you watch. There is so much circulating online. Pay attention to the news sources you follow. Look for credible sources, and for younger kids, check out news sites geared specifically to kids. One news anchor described the tents where separated kids are being held as "summer camps," which provoked infuriated reactions on social media platforms. For older kids, watch all sides of the news coverage and discuss different points of view.

Be mindful of your comments on social media. It can be challenging with all the news that's circulating, but be caring and respectful when you comment or post on social media. Role-modeling is essential, even in our most challenging moments.

Fight the stereotypes and point out the multiple contributions immigrants make to America. The Latino Donors Collaborative showcases real data highlighting the truth about Latinos in America. The more informed you are, the better prepared you will be to have supportive and constructive conversations with your kids. Watch these inspiring movies about Latinos together.

Talk about history. With older kids, you can discuss what's happening now in the context of history. If you and your family have your own stories that relate to this situation, talk about them. You can also discuss other humanitarian crises throughout the world and history. These graphic novels can be a great way to help kids learn more about history.

Take action. Participate with your kids in the protests that have been organized around the country. A major national protest is scheduled for June 30. You can also call your state representatives. For a complete guide to taking action, visit the Latino Community Foundation.

Donate. Millions of Americans have stepped up to help. As always, make sure you're donating to a reliable organization. A Facebook campaign for the nonprofit RAICES based in Texas has already amassed more than $12 million to help reunite kids with their families.

Take a break. As sad as it is, it's hard to say how long this crisis will last. It's important for you and your family to have unplugged time, to hug each other, and to give yourselves time to recharge.

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About Maria O Alvarez

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As Director of Latino Content and Outreach, I lead, create, execute and implement strategies to spread out the word about Common Sense Media in the Spanish-Speaking community. I love sharing our content, finding ways to... Read more

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Comments (1)

Adult written by Pocono Chuck

When my now 22 yo was 7 or 8, there was talk about what to do with illegal aliens. He asked why there was so many people who seemed to dislike or hate them. I explained that if someone knocks on the front door, I will answer it, and if that person seemed friendly enough, I might let them in. He understood my example. "But if" I started "someone tried to climb through the bathroom window...." which elicited the anticipated giggles from an eight year old. He said "You would push him out!" An 8 year grasped the concept of legal and illegal immigration. His younger brother asked me the same questions about at about the same age (7 or 8), and he understood the point. Now 15, he asks why the immigrants today are crossing illegally from Mexico, why aren't they seeking asylum from the border crossings, or from the Mexican government? I can't answer him. He wonders why people are allowed to break the laws, then act like they have rights and he doesn't. Why did DHS transport unaccompanied children who arrived 5-6 years ago to a nearby city, and the news reports praised that action, but when it happens now, according law, they think it is a bad thing to do today. Both of sons are well-versed in history and know of the crimes against humanity during the Holocaust, and wonder how people can dare to make comparisions to what's happening today. My family is active in the community; we donate to our church who, in turn, helps families around the world and those who crossed illegally into our country. My family knows of grandparents (on both my spouse's side and my side of the family) who came to the US through Ellis Island, and knows approximately 15% of their fellow travelers were sent back to their homeland. What my sons cannot fathom is why law breakers are being treated as heroic while they're seen by many as 2nd class citizens, even as they follow the laws.

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