DEAR HARRIETTE: I have a 12-year-old African-American son who has what looks like an arsenal of toy guns. From Nerf guns to BB guns to videogames featuring weapons, he and his friends are always playing around with guns. This is really no different from the kids I grew up with, but now I am scared to death.
I've been watching the news with all of the police killings of black men, including Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old Cleveland boy who had a toy gun. Now I want to take all of my son's toy guns away. Then again, I think that's hardly going to make him safe.
As people have been protesting these past couple of weeks, I feel pretty hopeless. I want to protect my son but not make him afraid in the process. What should I tell him to keep him safe? -- Scared Mom, Cincinnati
DEAR SCARED MOM: You should be afraid. We are living through a dark period in history right now. Perhaps the light is showing itself in the protests that have prompted the national government led by President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder to say that we must look at questions of police killings of unarmed people in a new way. Because of the groundswell of protest and the reality of video that has revealed many questionable engagements between civilians and law enforcement officers, we are being forced to look more closely at issues of fairness and legality.
As a mom, you can and should discuss with your son what is happening. Though it is scary, he should know what's happening in his world. He should be clear about how to react if the police ever stop him. You must teach him to remain calm, never run and always follow directions.
As far as toy guns go, I most certainly would toss them all. I would go one step further and not allow him to play with guns under any circumstances, including with his friends. The stakes are too high.
I also highly recommend that you talk to your son about current events including the various deaths of African-American males by police officers and the reactions to these deaths. This is where your perspective is key. Be sure to process your thoughts and feelings so that you can be clear when you communicate with him. Talk about ways to be empowered, including participating in peaceful protests, either personally or by donation. The two of you can also write to the Department of Justice expressing your concerns. This is a time to become politically active, to stand up for what you believe. Proceed with caution and with the conscious articulation to your son that you want him to live a happy, safe and long life. Sometimes in order to get to that, you have to take a stand.
(Lifestylist and author Harriette Cole is president and creative director of Harriette Cole Media. You can send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or c/o Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)