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Life Parenting

Raising a Black Teen in Canada

Parenting is one of the toughest challenges I’ve faced in my lifetime; creating rules, developing guidelines and most challenging of all, leading by example! You’re faced with some of the most difficult tasks, knowing you’re trying to raise a confident, independent and strong individual.

Being a mom, I strive to protect my family by keeping them healthy, both physically and mentally. In recent months the tasks of parenting have been more challenging as we process current affairs from news reports—first, the COVID-19 outbreak and lately the ongoing struggle faced by people of colour.

Like many parents, we do the best we can to raise our children and to keep them from harm, but when they’re out, at school or with friends or even just running an errand, we have no immediate control of the potential dangers they face.

My son recently watched two Netflix shows to complete a social studies assignment. The first was When They See Us a series based on the real-life experiences of Central Park Five, and the second was documentary 13th based on the 13th US Amendment. He could only watch portions at a time because the content was so tough to digest. At times he would sob as he watched knowing these were actual events, and it could easily have been him.

An afternoon while I was cleaning, he startled me with a hug and apologized with tears in his eyes. At the time, I didn’t understand the context of his tears and apology. I embraced him regardless. He told me he’d just watched one of the, When They See Us episodes and said, “Now I understand why you’re concerned about my safety when I leave home and ask me to check-in with you if I’m not home by nine.”

In the past, he felt, because he didn’t have troublesome friends, he would always be safe. He consistently reminded me that his friends were homebodies or into sports. After watching these shows for his assignment, he finally understood the precautionary measures I would remind him of before he walked out the door.

As I mentioned earlier, being a parent is tough, but parenting a black child is tougher. We have to remind our kids they are smart, beautiful and matter in this world, despite the negative comments from authoritative figures and peers. In our absence, they deal with words like “you’re dumb” or “you’re ugly” or teased about their hair texture and their fuller features. Imagine hearing negative statements like this almost daily, now imagine the scars it leaves on their psyche.

And when they visit a store and sales staff and security follow them, not to assist them but see if they’re stealing. Or when they head home from the library, or sports practice and pass-through a neighbourhood where no one looks like them, and a cop car scoops them up because they’re reported a suspicious-looking.

As a parent of a black teen son, it scares me when I consider the dangers he could face. I’d love to keep him close and in view, but it’s not a reasonable solution. Therefore I came up with a strategy to give me peace of mind while he’s out.

Here are 7 things I say or do before my son heads out:
  1. Try not to speak or laugh too loud while you’re out with your friends because your voice is deep and might be perceived as threatening.
  2. No horsing around in public unless you’re on the sports field, your movements might also be considered threatening.
  3. If cops approach you, remain respectful and ensure your hands are visible at all times.
  4. If you’re interrogated, ask for your parents and say nothing until we arrive.
  5. I also ask: who will you be with; where are you heading; remember to call or text if you switch locations and to do the same when you head home.
  6. If you’re not home by 9 p.m. call and let us know if you safe and what time to expect you. 
  7. And finally, I pray that God keeps him and his friends safe until they all return home.

Yes, parenting a black teen goes beyond conventional parenting. And for any parent reading this remember to always keep the lines of communication open between you and your teen, no matter how difficult the discussion.

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