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

NEW YORK (Reuters) – For 8 minutes and 46 seconds – the length of 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.”

Pokemon pledged $100,000 in support for Black Lives Matter. Sesame Street is co-hosting a televised town hall meeting with CNN on Saturday morning.

These are just a few of the 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 will host an hour-long special on CNN titled “Coming Together: Standing Up to Racism” in partnership with Sesame Street. The show aims to teach school-aged children how to identify inequality and speak out against it.

CNN is owned by telecommunications company AT&T Inc, whose chief executive, Randall Stephenson, urged other CEOs 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 counselor. “When the parents are watching, they’re listening.”

Fear of catching the coronavirus forced families indoors. Fear of dying at the hands of police are keeping kids from going back out, Bass said. One nine-year-old black child even asked Bass, “Am I going to get shot, too?”

On CNN’s event, Jones said viewers should not expect a historical rundown of slavery and colonialism in the United States. The show will urge parents to teach their children empathy. “Failing to teach kids about empathy and fairness is always harmful,” Jones said.

That applies to views of law enforcement as well, Jones and Bass emphasized. “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 The 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 $4 million to organizations 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, which featured astronaut Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman in space, was inspired by a submission to Lego Ideas.

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