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How to raise African-American boys like Trayvon Martin to be careful, not paranoid

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I did my best job as mother-detective and discerned that the situation had unfolded pretty much as he described it. I asked if he wanted me to do anything about it, and he thought for a minute. “I guess not,” he decided.

“You don’t want me to call about the yard teacher?”

“No,” he said. “Her son is nice, but she’s strict as a whip.”

It was clear from the reaction that, for him, the incident was unfair, but it was over. He seemed to understand, at his young age, that there would be some random unfairness in life.

And I was deeply grateful for that mature realization. As an African-American male, if he feels he must go toe to toe over every such situation, he will not survive.

In the urban community where I work as a psychologist, I am concerned about many of the young men I’ve worked with. They seem so ready to jump into conflicts over the smallest things. Some of it seems related to a sense of self worth so fragile that the smallest insult or perceived insult seems worth risking everything.

They are at greater risk when well-meaning parents teach their children to “stand up for themselves,” but they do not teach them when or how. Children can misperceive this and feel they should challenge anyone who does something they don’t like, sometimes with terrible consequences. Given this experience, I was comforted by my young son’s ability to choose his battles.

The incident with my son came in the same week that a friend at work expressed her relief that her son had just turned 22 and was now out of the most vulnerable demographic group – African-American males between 13 and 21. Statistics indicate that this is the group most vulnerable to violent death.

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