By Maria O. Alvarez
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 six-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 six, 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.
Common Sense Media is an independent nonprofit organization offering unbiased ratings and trusted advice to help families make smart media and technology choices.