Speaking up for a friend
Episode 11 – Violet, age 8: Kids say mean things about a friend’s skin color
Think About It Questions
- Why do you think it’s important to speak up if you hear someone say something mean about your friend? What would you do if you heard someone say something mean about a kid you don’t know well? What would you do if the mean comments were about a kid you know but don’t like?
- What, if anything, have you learned at school about race and racism? What have you learned about those topics from adult family members?
- Do you think it matters whether someone said a racist comment on purpose, trying to be hurtful, versus saying it without realizing the comment is hurtful? Why or why not?
- How do you know when it’s important to talk to an adult about mean or racist comments versus handling the situation yourself?
Welcome, I’m Dr. Eileen Kennedy-Moore, also known as Dr. Friendtastic. I’m an author and clinical psychologist based in Princeton, NJ.
Here’s today’s question:
Hi, My name is Violet. I'm 8 years old, and my question is, I have friends with different skin color, why do my other friends bully and tease them?
Hi, Violet. Thanks for your question.
Racism means treating someone unfairly because of their skin color or background. White kids can often avoid thinking about race, but for kids of color, that’s generally not an option.
The answer to why some people are mean to others who have a different skin color is complicated. It has to do with racial history, power, unfair laws and policies, ignorance, and people being either unable or unwilling to try to understand someone else’s experience or perspective.
Kids say mean things about someone’s race mostly because they’ve heard others make those remarks. Some kids try to raise themselves up by putting others down. Some kids think it makes them cool to say things they know they shouldn’t. You know neither of those things is right. And some kids don’t know any better and don’t realize their words are hurtful.
Although the causes of racism are complicated, what’s not complicated is what to do when you hear someone say mean things about your friend. Whether the mean comments are about race or any other quality or difference, you need to speak up for your friend. If you say or do nothing, that sends the message that you’re ok with the mean comments.
Now, how you speak up is going to depend on the situation. If the kids making the mean comments made a mistake and didn’t realize their words were hurtful, you can help them learn. Be kind but firm. You might say, “I know you’re trying to be funny, but that’s a hurtful thing to say. I don’t think it’s funny at all,” or “That sounds like a put-down. I don’t like it when you say things like that about my friend,” or “How would you feel if someone asked you that question?” The idea here is not to call these other friends out, but to call them in and help them understand better what is or isn’t okay to say and why.
If the kids making the mean comments were trying to be mean, then you need to be more forceful with your words, to stand up for your friend. You could say, “That’s not true!” or “Quit saying mean things about my friend!” or even “That’s a racist thing to say.”
If your friend walks away, go with her, so she knows she has your support. If your friend is just standing there, looking uncomfortable, you could say, “Come on. Let’s get out of here. I’ll keep you company.”
Another kind of speaking up to consider is telling a grown-up what’s going on. If the situation is very upsetting for your friend and especially if it keeps happening, getting an adult involved could help. You could offer to go with your friend if she wants to tell, or you could offer to report it yourself.
If you do end up speaking up about the mean comments, don’t expect your friend to say you’re great just for doing what’s right. You’re not saving her; you’re standing by her and supporting her. That’s what good friends do.
This has been Kids Ask Dr. Friendtastic. If you have a question about making and keeping friends that you’d like me to answer, go to DrFriendtastic.com, and click on the podcast tab to see how to submit your question.