'Am I going to get shot?' kids ask, as brands try to explain racism and violence to children

A child carrying a small broom walks past a line of National Guard members deployed in Washington amid protests, June 1, 2020. PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - For eight minutes and 46 seconds - the time it took George Floyd, an unarmed black man, to die at the hands of Minneapolis police - cable TV kids channel Nickelodeon's screen went black on Tuesday to sounds of inhaling and exhaling, as white text flashed "I can't breathe."

The Pokemon Company pledged US$100,000 (S$140,000) in support for Black Lives Matter. Sesame Street co-hosted a televised town hall meeting with CNN on Saturday morning (June 6).

These are just a few examples of how companies that entertain or sell products for kids are adjusting their messages, as they attempt to deal with this moment in American history and explain the complexities of racism and police brutality to children through action and words.

"It's one thing to try to preserve the innocence of children, but you shouldn't preserve the ignorance of children in a country that is multiracial that has this bad history," CNN commentator Van Jones told Reuters in an interview on Friday.

Jones and CNN anchor Erica Hill hosted the hour-long special on CNN entitled Coming Together: Standing Up To Racism in partnership with Sesame Street. The show aimed to teach school-aged children how to identify inequality and speak out against it.

CNN is owned by telecommunications company AT&T, whose chief executive, Randall Stephenson, urged other chief executive officers in a CNBC interview to speak out against racial inequality.

Experts said parents need help interpreting for children the relentless barrage of messages on social media and on television as peaceful protesters and looters clash with authorities all across the country.

"I have seen a spike in anxiety for my black kid clients because they are having access to the news," said Javonte Bass, a clinical mental health counsellor.

"When the parents are watching, they're listening."

Fear of catching the coronavirus forced families indoors.

Fear of dying at the hands of police is keeping kids from going back out, Bass said. One nine-year-old black child even asked Bass, "Am I going to get shot, too?"

Jones said the CNN event was not meant to be a historical rundown of slavery and colonialism in the United States. It urged parents to teach their children empathy.

"Failing to teach kids about empathy and fairness is always harmful," he said.

That applies to views of law enforcement as well, Jones and Bass emphasised.

"Police officers are not saints or superheroes. They're human beings," Jones said. "Some are good. Most are good, but some are bad."

Education is a theme among the responses from brands for children.

"Our mission is to inspire and develop the builders of tomorrow and that includes inspiring them to be tolerant, inclusive, and kind," toy company Lego Group said in a statement.

In addition to pausing advertising for a week to avoid marketing any of its toys, including police-themed toys, next to images of police violence, the company is committing US$4 million to organisations that teach children about racial inequality.

Lego has also encouraged fans to come up with new ideas for inclusive toy sets on its platform Lego Ideas.

One of its previous sets, the Women of Nasa, featured astronaut Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman in space. It was inspired by a submission to Lego Ideas.

MGA Entertainment, which owns toy brands such as L.O.L. Dolls and Little Tikes, announced it is releasing a limited edition Black Lives Matter Bratz Dolls. The company will donate US$10 from each doll sold to anti-racism programmes and organisations.

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