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Talking to teens about antisemitism can feel daunting, but is also an opportunity to open up a profound and important dialogue. In the face of the abominable antisemitic remarks from Ye, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West, and other recent displays of antisemitism, including the public flaunting of antisemitic slurs from a white supremacist group in Los Angeles, many parents—Jewish and non-Jewish alike—are wondering how to talk to teens about these events. Fraidy Aber, Constance Wolf Director of Education and Civic Engagement, spoke with Julie Grigoryan, Senior Education Manager and head of The CJM’s TAC Anti-Bias Leaders Fellowship, about how to begin a conversation with your teen about antisemitism and words of hate, particularly when it comes from celebrities or leaders.

Starting A conversation about antisemitism with your teen

Fraidy Aber: As part of The CJM's approach to education, we run some fabulous, in-depth teen programs, including our teen Anti-Bias Leaders Fellowship, which you spearhead. When a celebrity that many young people follow shares antisemitic words of hate, what are the struggles youth might experience?

Julie Grigoryan: When celebrities like Ye make antisemitic comments, millions of people hear them. And for teens who admire his music, whether they're Jewish or not, these hateful comments can bring up difficult questions such as, "Can I still listen to his music and disconnect the art from the person?" I've heard from many parents that this is a conversation they're having with their teens.

My sister had this conversation with her teenage daughter who said, "If I do something extra Jewish, can that balance out listening to Ye's music?" It was clearly a tough choice for my niece. What can we offer to parents who are navigating these conversations? How might parents offer their child a better understanding of the dangers of hateful words and harmful stereotypes, especially when it's coming from a celebrity who they follow?

Yeah, I don't think that parents need to answer the question, “Can you listen to this music or not?” That question is an entry point to help your teen explore their own thoughts and feelings, an opportunity to discuss the topic more deeply, and for you to gain an understanding of how your child is thinking about these issues. It is important for parents to talk about the power of words and how words of hate can hurt people, and this can be a moment to have that conversation. When words of hate and stereotypes are given a platform, they get normalized. We've seen this happening a lot recently. When a celebrity or a public figure, or anybody that's afforded this sense of authority, uses their platform to attack a group of people, their words get broadcast and repeated. Many people use the repetition of hate speech to justify their own biases.

We also see many individuals and public figures speaking out against Ye’s comments, and companies and corporations are severing ties with him because of the public outcry. I would remind parents to talk to their youth about how every voice matters in these moments. Remind teens that they have agency, that they can be upstanders and not bystanders, even by what music they listen to or who they follow on social media, and especially by how they share their voice and opinions.

Teens drawing on butcher paper at a large table
Photos by Duy Ho

Teens creating art and conversation on developing a sense of agency with social practice artist Beth Grossman. 

I'd love to hear more about the work that we do with teens in our TAC Anti-Bias Leaders Fellowship. How do we work with teens to strengthen those muscles?

We work with teens to use art and creativity to combat hate. The youth in our Anti-Bias Leaders Fellowship have lots of conversations with each other and with artists to explore identity and challenge perceptions of themselves and others. This helps strengthen their own sense of identity and develop appreciation of others' identities. We support them in putting positive initiatives out in the community with projects like zines, posters, and music. Parents can help their own teens do this, as well. Many schools have affinity groups to explore identity, express pride, and share with others. Let your kids know that joining these spaces and having these conversations with their peers is an important way for them to share perspectives, broaden understanding, and develop empathy. Often when we can put a face to the people being hurt by hate speech, it propels us to stand up to it.

So true. And why is it important for parents to have conversations, especially with adolescents? How does it fit in with youth development research about building identity and independence during these formative years?

The teen years are what are known as a sensitive period of rapid development in their sense-of-self. Adolescence is when kids really begin thinking about how their identity is shaped and may affect their life. Having a strong sense-of-self can play a huge role in one's overall mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health.

Parents can take this moment to support their youth in nurturing their identities by having these conversations and giving them space to reflect. They can talk to teens about appreciating the qualities that make them special, talk to them about values and beliefs, and encourage them to support their friends' varied identities—to build positivity in their immediate community. I also encourage parents to have conversations with their teens about questioning what they see, hear, and do on social media. What values does this person that I'm following or listening to portray? How does that make me feel about myself and others? How might I use my voice, on social media or in school, as a presence for good?

Teens standing in a gallery with protest signs

Teens exploring the exhibition Jason Lazarus: Live Archive at The Contemporary Jewish Museum, Nov 21, 2013–Jan 20, 2014.

One question a parent might be thinking about is, "Well, how do I actually begin this conversation, and how do I make it a safe space for me and my kids to talk about this topic?” How do we avoid sounding like we’re attacking what they're listening to or their choices?

A good place to start is just to ask if they've heard about what's happening, what's being said, and how they feel about it. And then holding back judgment and stay curious as they share their experience. Youth may be experiencing subtle acts of discrimination from their peers. They may not have come to you with these struggles before. Come from a place of curiosity about their experience. You might learn they need support in their school environment.

Coming to our children with curiosity is so important. I am a mom of younger children, and my kids may not even be aware of this public moment. As long as you feel like your child is old enough for a conversation, it's good to take a small step to introduce some of these ideas. Perhaps sharing, “Sometimes folks who we listen to on the radio say things online that aren't kind, and when that happens, there are a lot of responses in the world.” Start to introduce the idea that there is choice and impact in how we respond.

Absolutely. These are important growth conversations to have with your kids at many ages.

If a teen says, "I'm so upset and I want to do something about it," what are some ways that parents can help give options or provide potential pathways for their youth's intentions?

I love what your niece said about, "Can I do something more Jewish?" Expressing pride in identity is a beautiful way to combat hate speech. As you explore and feel more pride in your own identities and start learning about others, you develop empathy and a sense of responsibility for others. Parents can use this as an opportunity to really encourage youth to explore their identities and share pride in who they are.

There are a lot of the ways to take action on a micro level by exploring one’s own identity, through connection in a peer group, with one’s family, and within a class or school. Each circle around us is a place where we can have influence. And some teens may want to do something on the macro level, too, and many youth do.

Yes, we have seen all over the country how youth groups are taking direct action, and are hitting the streets in protests, creating groups in their schools, and creating national movements. Teens can get involved on that macro level, but I wouldn't discount the micro level.

Say as a parent I want to learn more, or my teen is looking for resources. Are there places that I can go to educate myself more?

The Anti-Defamation League is a great resource to learn about recognizing words of hate and antisemitism. They have a nationwide #noplaceforhate campaign. For teachers, there are wonderful organizations, like Facing History and Ourselves and Learning for Justice, that offer resources for the classroom on anti-bias education. For keeping youth safe online, Common Sense Media is fantastic.

Thank you so much, Julie. Braving this conversation with our youth is so important.  

We all know how challenging it can be to have a conversation with teens, especially when they don't always want to talk. But making the effort to ask them and hear their thoughts on these challenging topics is really important and brave work.

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See what the TAC interns are up to on Instagram @tac_teenartconnect.

A group of three teen interns clustered together looking at an iPhone
Photo: Dallis Willard
Headshot of Fraidy Aber
Fraidy Aber
Constance Wolf Director of Education and Civic Engagement

Fraidy Aber leads a team who collectively produce a vibrant suite of offerings realizing The Museum's mission to engage people of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities in exploring Jewish culture, history, art, and ideas. Fraidy co-led the development of the Zim Zoom Family Room and the Textile Lab and taught a graduate level course titled "Museums and Social Justice" for University San Francisco. Previously Fraidy served as Executive Director of the Vail Symposium, creating thought-provoking programs for the community at large in Vail, Colorado and was Director of Public Programs at Hudson River Park where she led cultural, recreational, and educational programming for the five-mile park along Manhattan’s west side. Fraidy holds a BS from Cornell University, and a Master's in Education, Leadership, Organizations and Entrepreneurship from Harvard University.

Head shot of Julie Grigoryan
Julie Grigoryan
Senior Education Manager

Julie Grigoryan manages The CJM's educational efforts, programs, and partnerships for teens. Prior to joining The CJM, she served as Education Director at the International Children’s Art Museum (ICAM) in San Francisco. While at ICAM she coordinated a world-wide arts education program and received an IMLS grant to develop a partnership program with the Hellenic Children’s Museum in Athens, Greece. Julie has been extremely active in providing arts education to children working as both a museum educator and classroom art teacher. Julie holds a BA in Art History from UC Berkeley and received an MA in Art History from the George Washington University, Washington, D.C.