Biracial Teen - Answering a Cry for Help
Biracial teen ... ... How to Help a Mixed Race Teen Who is Acting Out
In this Question & Answer Series, I give my best parenting advice for those who are struggling with parenting issues. If you have a question, submit it via the Contact Us link to the left and it may be answered in a future issue.
Mixed Race Teen Parenting Question:
I am the grandparent of a 16 year old biracial teen, Sarah. Her mother is white and single, father is black. The mother and father have never lived together. Sarah is in crisis and we want to help, but don't know how. What can you suggest to help bothSarah and her mother? Sarah has been seeing a counselor, but has recently begun violent behavior against her mother. She has no contact with her father.
First, I want to commend you for your concern. This is a tough situation and must be addressed immediately since Sarah's future and mental health are at stake. You say that Sarah is seeing a counselor, but what kind of counselor? Is this a person of color, trained in cross cultural counseling, who understands the identity issues faced by mixed race teens? These are the questions you need to ask to qualify the therapist who helps Sarah. This is a case where not just any therapist will do.
It is tragic that Sarah has had no contact with her black father. Biracial teens need constant contact with the parent of color in order to establish a healthy identity. If this is not possible due to an abusive or disinterested parent, then a trusted person of color should have been sought out. It is crucial for Sarah to have someone in her life who looks like her—someone she can identify with—who can teach her the subtleties of being black and can school her in the complexities of the racial biases she will face. This authority must be someone who cares enough to treat Sarah as one of her one. This need for such a figure becomes particularly strong if Sarah looks more black than white, especially if she cannot "pass" for white. In our society, there is so much judgment about how a person looks and how they are categorized with regard to race. For reasons that are clear, mixed race children do not fall into convenient categories.
Caucasian parents, although they may love their biracial children deeply, simply do not possess the skills or experience to teach a biracial teen how to understand the politics of power within the black community and outside it.
You haven't given me enough information about Sarah's background and her relationship with her mother to advise you about how to help them with their relationship. Sarah's rage may have been compounded by many things aside from the fact that she did not grow up with her black father. Growing up in a single parent home can be stressful enough without adding the biracial component to the mix. Then there is the question of parenting and relating skills and the ability of the mother to connect with and respond to the needs of her child. Obviously, there has been a disconnect. Sadly, I suspect it has occurred on many levels.
For now, Sarah's needs should be your focus. You must immediately assess the ability of Sarah's counselor to understand her issues and if you discover that she falls short, find a counselor who is skilled in cross cultural counseling. I suggest that you choose a person of color. If you can find a mixed race therapist who has struggled with her own identity issues, you will have found someone who understands Sarah from the inside out.
Since I think it's essential that biracial teens find a way to connect with such counselors, therapists, and psychologists, I will put together a resource of these skilled professionals. (If you are a person of color who has expertise in these issues, please contact me and I will tell you how you can get listed in my resource.)
I also suggest that you offer Sarah some books written by biracial teens, so she'll have someone who she can identify with. Start with a book written by
I suggest Sarah's mother purchase The Multiracial Experience by Maria P. Root. Although this is an expensive book, it will give her an understanding of the issues that Sarah faces. She will need to do some research on
mixed race teens
to start to understand what Sarah missed out on and to create the groundwork for reconnecting with her child.
About the author: Laura Ramirez is the author of the award-winning book, Keepers of the Children. In the book she shows how she combined ideas from the Native American and white culture to raise her biracial children to embrace the fullness of their heritage. This book serves as a model for parents who are raising kids with mixed race heritage.
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