How To Support Multiracial Teens: A Guide For Parents

How To Support Multiracial Teens: A Guide For Parents

Bri Craig headshot sitting on staircase.

Bri Craig, MS, LMFT-A, lives and works as a family therapist in Austin, TX. She currently sees clients at Austin Teen Therapy, a group practice geared towards supporting teens and their families through a myriad of challenges unique to adolescence. Bri also splits her time between private practice and agency work with The Safe Alliance. She provides individual crisis intervention and support groups to teens who have experienced interpersonal violence. 

Some of Bri’s passions include working with BIPOC, multiracial teens, LGBTQIIA+ folx, and emerging adults. As a queer woman of color, Bri understands the necessity to provide culturally empowering services to her clients. Identity work and exploration are central tenets of her practice — she feels especially drawn to helping mixed-race families navigate difficult conversations about race/ethnicity, privilege, systemic oppression, and its impact on mental health and family functioning. Bri holistically works with her clients and sees them as more than just the problems that led them to therapy. 

My Story

I have always been intrigued by multiracial individuals–not in a creepy, let me exoticize you way, but strictly from a psychosocial/sociocultural perspective. Considering that I am one of said individuals, it adds an extra layer for me. Growing up in a household with a Black father, white mother, and mixed siblings, race was something I became acutely aware of at a young age. I don’t recall having explicit conversations about how my family was different from some of my friends and neighbors, but I do remember FEELING that difference early on. 

I have primarily had to ‘figure out who I was’ in the world on my own terms. As my own racial/ethnic identity has evolved over the years, one thing that has always remained constant is the internalized pressure I have felt to ‘fit in’ to a society that thrives on labels and categorizations. I have only recently begun fully embracing the multifacetedness of my experience and have learned A LOT along the way.

In this post, I will attempt to highlight some suggestions to consider related to raising multiracial children that have been helpful in my own life and the lives of clients I’ve worked with in the past and present. 

Increase Awareness, Sit In Discomfort, Move Towards Action

  1. Acknowledge the role race plays in your household. Adopting the narrative that “We don’t see color” or “Race doesn’t matter in our family” is not helpful and, in my experience, shuts down the opportunity for much-needed conversations about this topic to occur.
  2. Examine gaps in information, education, and experience that exist for you. One way to explore these gaps is by getting in touch with biases you may have about certain groups of people (we all have them). Harvard created a really cool resource designed to do just this where you can take an implicit bias test.
  3. Prepare to make mistakes. Something I’ve heard from parents frequently when it comes to talking about race (and really anything dealing with their kids) is, “I don’t want to say the wrong thing.” I promise you, you will fuck up. That is the beauty of possessing humility. It’s okay not to have all the answers. Get comfortable with messing up. You have the power to repair after a rupture through practicing authenticity and admitting your faults/biases. 
  4. Check your privilege and unlearn racist belief systems. Our society was built on the notion that white skin is more desirable than anything else. These beliefs have permeated many systems and make it very difficult for people of color to hold positions of power compared to their white counterparts. Simply because you are parents to multiracial children, are in an interracial relationship, or have family members of color, this does not absolve you from doing the work to unlearn how white supremacy is impacting you. It is essential to educate yourself and your multiracial children about the history of systemic oppression in our country. Here are a few resources to help you get started:

Increase Connection With One Another

  1. Foster space for open dialogue free of judgment. Providing safety and building a healthy attachment with your kids is a goal that all parents should be striving for. This is especially true for parents of mixed-race children due to some of the unique challenges they may be experiencing that I mentioned above. One way of doing this is through utilizing basic communication skills when your kids are curious about exploring their racial identity or other race-related topics. These skills include active listening, summarizing/reflecting back key points, normalizing and validating their emotions, and offering feedback only when asked. 
  2. Reduce constraining implicit family rules. Every family system operates under their own beliefs and expectations. Often, the shared meaning of those rules is understood without actually being explicitly expressed. Constraining family rules get in the way of open communication and create emotional distance between family members. Read more here. These are some examples of constraining implicit family rules: 
    • “We don’t talk openly about ______ in our family.”
    • “My parents are always right, it is not my place to question their authority.”
    • “We don’t challenge our reality or rock the boat in our family.”
    • “You must be mentally tough, showing emotion is a sign of weakness.”
  3. Engage in family check-ins. Parents should be aware of the impacts of racism on their children’s mental health and functioning and their own. Exploring ways your family is experiencing and responding to bigotry, discrimination, and microaggressions is vital. Multiracial children are not only subjected to discrimination due to their belonging to racial/ethnic minority groups but also their unique, mixed identity. Frequently, they can feel disconnected from their respective racial groups due to being too racially ambiguous. This can cause feelings of loneliness, shame, and rejection. Kids are forced to “choose a side” for the sake of fitting in – sound familiar? 
    • These experiences may be hard for monoracial parents to understand, as it is something they have never encountered personally. Thus, parents should cultivate an environment where their mixed-race children learn to honor both sides of their racial/ethnic heritage equally.
    • This is a really dope resource that summarizes the impact of racial stress on families while also highlighting several coping strategies and self-care activities that can be used to counteract it.
  4. Create a positive family climate. One way to increase your multiracial child’s sense of self is through collaboratively creating a family mantra. This can be a reminder that although they may still be sorting through their place in the world around them, they always have a piece of their identity that they can fall back on. Learn more about how to create a family mantra here. Establishing daily affirmations is also a meaningful way to raise your multiracial child’s self-esteem. Affirmations are concise statements used to set intentions for the day and focus on strengths, special abilities, and things one appreciates about themselves. Daily affirmations are also useful for parents to practice too! 

Provide Opportunities For Cultural Immersion

Last but not least, parents should allow their multiracial children to get in touch with not only their racial/ethnic backgrounds but also others! Broadening your child’s horizons and helping them build connections within the community around them, strengthens their connection to all pieces of them. Below I have listed several ideas on how to do this:

  • Seek support and build community with other multiracial families through online forums, meet-up groups, etc. 
  • Place value on diversity versus homogeneity.
    • Neighborhoods, schools, church, and other activities 
  • Visit important cultural monuments and museums.
  • Consume a variety of multicultural books, media, music, art, and foods.
  • Learn about family genealogy and heritage.
  • Attend a rally or march together as a family.

Staying with the Work 

Whew, that was a lot! I genuinely believe that parenting is one of the most challenging things you will ever do in your life. I invite you to take a deep breath and remind yourself that you are doing the best you can! I believe in you! I hope that in reading this blog, you have been able to gain some new perspective on how to help your multiracial child(ren) thrive. 

Please feel free to email me if you’d like to set up a consultation or session to navigate any of the topics shared above. I would love to help celebrate the beauty that is your family and empower you to feel equipped to take on the world! You can also stay connected with me via Instagram.

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