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Kids talk honestly about race — and it’s eye-opening

Jeanne Sager is parenting and living editor for SheKnows. A photographer, social media junkie, and crazed mom to an even crazier kid, she's strung words together for TheStir.com, Babble.com, Parents, Kiwi Magazine, and others.

Kids’ surprising request to parents: Talk about racism

Racism. It's a tough topic — tough for Americans, tough for parents. But if the headlines of the past few years — from Ferguson to Chicago to Charleston — have taught us anything, it's not a topic that's going away anytime soon.

But how much of that is the fault of today's parents? Are we not talking to our kids about race enough?

That's the message straight from the kids in SheKnows' #Hatch program. Presented with details about the civil rights movement over the years and recent statistics about the number of black men killed in America every day, the #HatchKids expressed shock... and concern about the future.

More: #BlackLivesMatter cofounders on why the movement is more vital now than ever

As one Hatchling notes in this powerful video, "If you have really, really protective parents who don't tell you about the terrible stuff going on in the world, then it's going to be so much harder to fix all the problems of the world."

Smart kids, huh?

But is not talking to kids about the tough stuff in the world really a problem?

Well, yes.

According to an MTV survey, just 37 percent of teens say their parents talk about racial issues at home (30 percent of whites and 46 percent of minorities). It's particularly ignored in white families, where studies show that parents are more likely to take a "colorblind" or "colormute" approach to race when talking to their kids.

But that sort of approach doesn't necessarily work — 73 percent of the respondents to the aforementioned MTV survey say they believe we should talk “more openly” about bias, but only 20 percent say they’re comfortable doing so.

More: After Eric Garner, what am I supposed to tell my son?

Talking about civil rights and race with our kids really can make a difference in the world and a difference in how comfortable they are talking about the topic.

Cindy M. is mom to a 9-year-old #HatchKid, and she says there have been frank discussions in her home. "We weave civil rights into dinner conversations when it comes up organically," she noted. "We sometimes talk about his friendships with kids of color at school and what he notices about the dynamics they face. We've specifically talked about racial epithets, as he has heard them in songs, seen them in books, etc., and was curious about what they meant and why they exist."

What she found striking about her son's response to the #Hatch program was how casual he was.

"He did say, 'We talked about the normal stuff — you know, the civil rights movement, Nelson Mandela, do we need a civil rights movement today, why there are so many black people shot by police — and stuff like that,'" she said of their discussions after shooting was over. "It was interesting to hear how casual about it all he seemed, actually. A function of too much discussion? Or too little personal relationship to the discussion? A sense that he and his friends are mostly insulated from the worst of it, so it feels like a distant problem? Not sure."

Or perhaps it's a sign that kids whose parents don't shy away from tough topics aren't afraid to talk about them... or afraid to do something about them.

More: 9 Signs white privilege is absolutely real

After all, as Yasmeen Hassan, mom of another #HatchKid says, "have always taught my kids to think for themselves and question what they are told. And they can only do this if they are aware of history and current affairs."

For more on this Hatch program and opening up a conversation about race and civil rights with your kids, check out our discussion guide.

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