Ask AF: When Preteens Face Prejudice

An adoptive parent asked our expert how to help her daughter with racist remarks from her classmates.

Q: My 12-year-old, adopted from China, has recently been saying she doesn’t want to go to school. Last night I finally got her talking. She said, “There are kids who disrupt the class and are racist. They tell Asian jokes.” Her school is diverse, but there are few Asian students. How can I help her?

A: The appropriate intervention depends on the intensity of the situation. Because your daughter is a preteen, I encourage you to collaborate with her. Debriefing is always a great place to start. Ask what happened, how it made her feel, what she did, the result, if she would do the same thing again, and if she would like you to intervene in any way. You could suggest that she say something like, “I assume you did not intend to be hurtful, but you should probably know that your ‘joke’ was not really funny. It was actually offensive.” Letting her know that she can stand up for herself will be helpful.

If discrimination is intense, you may need to address it with teachers and/or administrators. You might want to start with a specific teacher; if the problem is widespread, make an appointment with the principal and/or guidance counselor. Make sure you approach it from a collaborative mindset, so the school staff do not feel the need to be defensive. Let them know what your daughter has told you and let them react. You may need to have a suggested plan of action prepared, in case you do not get the reaction you would like. Finally, moving your child from a toxic environment to a school with a more balanced diversity is a big step, but it is necessary in some situations.

It will be important for your daughter to have Asian role models who can talk with her about identity formation and dealing with prejudice throughout her teen years. If you don’t have any in your life now, approach the Asian parents at her school, reach out to people you see in the community, or ask your agency for referrals. There is a large community of Asian adult adoptees, many of whom would be happy to mentor a child adopted from China.

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