Racism has an extremely negative impact on everyone, both adults and children. Children who have been exposed to racism may have impaired emotional, physical, and mental development. They may have trouble in school, they may have problems with nonverbal communication skills, and they may have problems with self esteem and self awareness. Children whose parents have been exposed to racism will also have negative impacts from that racism, because of the ways in which the parents deal with the racism. This can have in impact on the child’s physical, cognitive, and socio/emotional wellbeing. While parents can do their best to boost a child’s confidence and self-esteem, or move to a neighborhood where the child may not be exposed to as much racism, the problem is as much a societal problem as an individual one. In order to tackle the problem of racism, it needs to be a focus on interventions aimed at helping children with impaired development.There are many factors which can alter the ways in which a child develops physically, emotionally, socially, and behaviorally. These factors range from the environment in which the child was raised to the emotional and physical wellbeing of his or her parents. One factor which can have a large impact on the way a child develops is racism. When the child experiences racism it effects the way the child develops, and also when the parents experience racism it effects the way the parents interact with the child, which can impact the child’s development. The affect that racism has on children is broad. It can negatively impact the child’s emotional wellbeing, behavior, and even physical development. The only way to help children be healthy when raised with racism is to minimize the racism, and for society as a whole to attempt to eliminate racism at all levels. The affects that racism has on children both because of direct exposure and because of parental exposure can impact that child’s entire life; in order to raise healthy children, it is society’s responsibility to deal with racism.
Racism can have a huge impact on child development that can last throughout their entire lives. Kelly (2013) states: “Emerging evidence suggests that experienced racism might help explain observed ethnic inequalities in early child health and development”. (Kelly, 2013). Even in early childhood, negative effects can be seen in children who have experienced racism. One way in which racism can impact children is to negatively impact their mental development and wellbeing. When reviewing a number of studies done on this subject, Rosenthal Et Al (2013) write: “The most consistent association between reported racial discrimination and health was for negative mental health outcome” (Rosenthal, 2013). In other words, of all of the ways in which racism can impact a child’s development the most common is mental health. Mental health effects everything from a child’s ability to process information to their academic scores. Another way in which racism can impact a child is emotional wellbeing (Rosenthal, 2013). A child’s self esteem and self concept can be damaged if that child is exposed to racism and these things can lead to other negative consequences later in life, such as substance or alcohol abuse. A child’s development can be harmed in many ways by racism, which means that the effects will last throughout the child’s life.
But the effects of racism are not limited to mental or emotional development. Racism can also impact the physical development of children. Kelly (2013) notes that there may be a link between a child’s experiencing of racism and obesity, though that link was not strongly present in that study (Kelly 2013). Both Kelly (2013) and Rosenthal (2013) theorize that part of the reason for this is that children who may be exposed to racism may be limited in where they can go, which can limit their physical activity levels. This is just one way in which exposure to racism can negatively impact the physical development of a child.
The negative impacts of racism on a child’s development, both physical and mental, is not limited to the child’s direct exposure to incidents of racism. When their parents experience racism, it can have just as detrimental an effect. For example, some studies have shown that when a mother has to deal with racism in her life, she is put under increased stress which can cause her to experience problems in childbirth, which can negatively impact her child. (Rosenthal 2013). Priest (2011) says of black mothers, for example, that they are exposed to discrimination by others on the basis of their color and their gender, and that the stresses caused by this discrimination “which continue, are heightened, and augmented during pregnancy” (Priest, 2011). A mother’s experiences of racism can impact the experience of pregnancy and childbirth, which puts her at a greater risk of having birth difficulties.
The problems that can be experienced by children whose parents are exposed to racism are not only present at birth, however. Kelly (2013) says that just as children may have developmental problems when exposed to racism, they are at risk of the same developmental problems if their parents are exposed. For example, children who live in homes or neighborhoods where they will be subject to racism, Kelly (2013) says, may experience socio-emotional difficulties, or problems with spacial awareness. Kelly (2013) also states that “Maternal experiences of racist insult were associated with non-verbal ability scores” (Kelly, 2013). This means that a mother’s experience of racism may have an impact on how her child communicates nonverbally. This may be because it has an impact on the way she communicates as a result of the racism.
In order to raise healthy children in a society which exposes them to racism, parents must attempt to make sure they do all they can to boost a child’s self-confidence and self-awareness, because that will help the child to withstand the pressure that racism puts on them. Parents can also attempt to move to a neighborhood which would not put their child at the same level of risk when it comes to exposure to racism, though this can be more easily said than done. The problem with moving to a new neighborhood is that racism effects people at all levels of society, no matter where they live (Kelly, 2013). Coping with the problem of racism is a societal problem not just a problem for individual children or families. Given that children are so at risk of developmental problems caused by racism, workers need to realize that racism is one of the factors which can negatively impact children and make coping with that racism part of any interventions for that child. Kelly (2013) says: “Interventions that aim to improve early child development and address ethnic health inequalities need to incorporate approaches to tackling racism at all levels of society”. (Kelly, 2013). Kelly (2013) is saying that in order to tackle racism, people need to realize that it is a problem effecting society as a whole, at all levels. It is something everyone needs to work on, not just the parents or children directly impacted by it. Racism is a problem that pervades many societies, and everyone in those societies needs to be focused on ending it.
Though there are few that would argue that racism has serious negative consequences, few realize just how bad those consequences can be to child development. Racism can impact the way a child develops cognitively, the way the child feels about himself or herself, the way the child communicates with others, the way the child develops physically and the problems the child may have in later life. Racism causes problems that can last a lifetime. Even if the child does not have direct exposure to racism, his or her parents may, and that exposure can impact their child’s development. Even if parents do their best to ensure that a child has minimal exposure to racism, if society as a whole does not act to end racism, the problem will continue and children will continue to be harmed by it. Each and every person needs to act to end racism, for the sake of the children and the future.

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  • Kelly, Y., Beckares, L., and Nazroo, J. (2013). “Associations Between Maternal Experiences of Racism and Early Child Health and Development: Findings From the UK Millennium Cohort Study”. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 67(1): P. 35. Retrieved 2017, February 11.
  • Rosenthal, L., and Lobel, M. (2011). “Explaining Racial Disparities in Adverse Birth Outcomes: Unique Sources of Stress for Black American Women”. Social Science and Medicine 72(6): PP. 976-982. DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2011.01.013. Retrieved 2017, February 11.
  • Priest, N., Paradies, Y., Trenerry, B., Truong, M., Karlsen, S., Et al. (2013). “ Systematic Review of Studies Examining the Relationship Between Reported Racism and Health and Wellbeing for Children and Young People”. Social Science and Medicine 95: PP. 115-127. DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2012.11.031. Retrieved 2017, February 11.