Dear Visible Man,I am the mother of a 14-year-old African-American adolescent. He will be attending a private school in the Puget Sound area next fall. He has been congratulated by his coaches for his “natural talent,” but I am concerned about his poor decision making and the fact that he has developed a sense of entitlement.I am also concerned about the hostile society he will face as he continues to develop into a black man. What suggestions do you have? Understanding what happened to Trayvon Martin and the jury verdict, how can I protect him?Worried Mom, Puget Sound WA
Dear Worried Mom,
Your comments are reflective of the concerns of many African-American mothers & fathers across the nation. How can I protect my child from an increasingly hostile society? How do I get my son to understand the natural gifts that he has? To appreciate and utilize such gifts and avoid being used by others?
These are complex questions that may require you to do something you may not be prepared to do. To begin, you must model the behavior you are seeking.
First, you must want to stop living in fear and begin the process of living with fear.
Second, you must want to get out of way, stop intervening and protecting your adolescent from the realities of life.
Third, you must want to provide your adolescent with empowerment strategies that will prevail long following either your death or his/her attainment of adulthood, whichever comes first.
The death of Trayvon Martin and the ensuring jury verdict are in themselves travesties. And yet understanding how American society feels about black males, both the death and the jury verdict is not a shock or surprise to many.
LIVING WITH FEAR INSTEAD OF LIVING IN FEAR
We must change the way that we conceptualize and view fear. Just like happiness, joy and sadness, fear is nothing more than an emotion. We must want to teach our adolescents how to conceptualize and utilize fear instead of allowing fear to be used against them. We must want to conceptualize fear as both being “good” and “wanted” instead of something to be viewed as “bad” and to be avoided or denied.
In conceptualizing fear the individual can be taught the following understanding: Utilizing fear, I understand that I am:
· Alone-the individual, once outside the residence is vulnerable· Abandon-the individual is at risk of being isolated by the larger group and singled out.· Awareness-the individual must want to be “aware” of his surroundings and physical environment.· Alert-the individual must want to be vigilant to the presences of others i.e. personal and emotional safety.· Alive-the individual in following the first four components has improved his/her chances of returning to the residence safe, unharmed and not traumatized.
GET OUT OF THE WAY
Adolescence can be a time of pride for many parents. However it can also be a time in which parents agonized, sweat, cry and shake their heads in frustration. Attempting to prepare adolescents for moving into a society that has proven to be hostile and fearful due to stereotypes and fears of imagined behaviors is doubled in difficulty when parental action results in either minimizing the issue or prevents the adolescent from learning from mistakes of decisions or choices in actions.
Just as adolescents are learning and adjusting as they move toward young adulthood, so must their parents learn and adjust in their behaviors and actions. Parents must want to transition from the roles of supervisors and directors to roles that are suitable to those which encourage preparedness for young adulthood. The following transition is suggested:
The ABC’s of Parenting from Adolescence to Adulthood
The parent adopts the following roles:· A= advocacy-The parent becomes a “parental advocate.” In doing so, the parental advocate provides encouragement for the adolescent’s independence and movement into adulthood.· B= bystander-The parent becomes a “bystander”. In doing so, the parent learns to come to terms with his/her own stress/anxiety. The parent refrains from interfering or blocking the making of “specific” mistakes and in doing so, becomes willing to observe the adolescent make mistakes and wrestle with choices and decisions.· C= consultation-The parent remains open and available. The parent agrees to serve in the role of consultant and provide “consultation upon request.” Such consultation is likely to be more valued when the information is requested by the adolescent rather than demanded by the parent.
Of the three distinct roles, the “bystander” is far the most difficult role for a parent to transit into. To stand by and observe one’s adolescent either make a mistake or error in judgment, decision etc can be quite troublesome for most parents. However the question is this: How can I be assure that my young adult will make good decisions when I am either not available to assist or following my death?
Life within itself is a journey. As parents we can respond to our sense of powerlessness and move towards “living with fear” in assisting our adolescents to prepare for young adulthood. This can be done with utilizing the following empowerment strategy known as The Four Stages of the Journey of Self Discovery i.e. RACE:
· Responsibility- the adolescent must want to accept responsibility for his/her well-being.· Accountability- the adolescent and no one else is accountable for his/her actions.· Consequences- are reactions (not punishment) to decisions, actions or behaviors that the adolescent is involved within.· Empowerment-comes from within the individual. It is for the adolescent to set and achieve his/her goals and/or direction.
In summary, to answer the main question that is being asked indirectly is “how do I protect my adolescent from a society that is either hostile or fearful of him?” The answer to this is suggested in a quote by Phillip Jackson, the Executive Director of The Black Star Project (Chicago, IL). He states:
“America loves Black men like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Frederick Douglass and even Trayvon Martin after they are dead. It is the strong, vocal, positive, everyday Black men that they have trouble with while they are alive!”Black Star Project 7/13/13
We can focus our energies on protecting our children or we can focus on empowering our children to protect themselves.
I love black men. I love my deceased grandfather who grew up in South Carolina and while lying in his coffin had the same scar over his eyebrow that he had carried since he was 13 years old when a white stranger whipped him in the street. I love my father who was programmed to think that black is bad and tries to dissociate himself from anything black and still refers to black people as “Afro Americans.” I love my black male friends. I love my son. I loathe that there are people that make negative pre-judgments about these wonderful men that I know. Prejudgments that could deny them a job, deny them friendships or lead to their arrest or even their untimely death.Felicia 45, mother of son age 13
Live in fear or live with fear…. You choose.Seek to protect your adolescent from a hostile society or advocate for his/her empowerment… You choose.Empower your adolescent to thrive. Or continue to enable him/her to survive. You choose.Yesterday is gone. Today is fading. Tomorrow is not promised.You Choose.
The Visible Man