The news often creates opportunities for conversations with our children. This week’s renewed focus on Ferguson, Mo. after the grand jury returned no indictment of police officer Darren Wilson in last summer’s shooting death of Michael Brown is a perfect opportunity to open a dialogue.

First, talking to our kids about what’s going on in the world is always a good thing. But talking to our kids on a topic that everyone finds uncomfortable – race and class – is even more important.

It is likely your children already have been talking about it. Social media is the modern-day water cooler. It’s where everyone talks about everything. And your kids are on social media. Their news feeds are inundated with commentary about what’s happening. What’s true can become twisted. Even more important, how it affects your children can become lost. That’s why the discussion is so essential.

In the case of Ferguson, here are some talking points:

First and foremost, the death of Michael Brown is a tragedy. The circumstances surrounding the incident are complicated and unfortunate. The loss of life, no matter the circumstances, is difficult not only for the family but for the entire community.

  • Differences are good. People look different. People come from different sides of town and have different priorities. Those differences mean opinions will be different, too.
  • Parents of white children, talk to them about perception and remind them that they face different challenges than people of color. Be candid. Racism is real. There is unfairness and injustice in this world and you can recognize it and discuss it in a civil fashion.
  • Parents of children of color, have a conversation with your sons (and daughters) about dealing with the police. As difficult as this conversation may become, it is possible that a person in authority might judge you by the color of your skin. Likewise, police and other authority figures are to be addressed respectfully. Think of your own family and friends who serve our community through public safety such as police, fire and military.

Talking is a great diffuser. Discussing these difficult topics is a way to diffuse emotions and address critical social issues. It is how we, as adult mentors and parents, can create an open environment, free of judgment or mistrust. It also teaches that civil discourse is to be valued, not feared.

The most important tool you can use in parenting is to have conversations with your kids. Conversations create connections and lifelong bonds. It helps in building trust when you learn more about what’s going on in their heads. Don’t be afraid to talk to them. Don’t feel like you have to have all of the answers. Just start the conversation.

Micah Maxwell is the Executive Director of the Boys & Girls Club of Muncie, a graduate of Ball State University, and a native of Muncie, Indiana. Twitter: @MaxxWellSaid