Methods: Six focus groups with parents (N = 30) as part of the broader Healing Illinois Project were conducted. The focus groups were organized by race: majority White; Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) only; and mixed with both White and BIPOC participants. Semi-structured questions were asked on the impacts of contemporary events on youth identity and socioemotional well-being. Semantic qualitative thematic analysis was used to identify and compare emergent themes according to the racial composition of the focus groups.
Results: Two salient themes emerged across all the participant groups: increased social awareness and socioemotional distress. All participants shared a level of difficulty navigating the politics and impact of contemporary events in daily life. We observed that parents in the BIPOC only groups often shared that social awareness starts at an early age for their children: “having a six-year-old who's [i]n first grade now who's very much so well aware of the things that are happening in the world today.” In contrast, for White parents, their children became socially aware at older ages. Though White parents observed that their older children were more aware, there was difficulty navigating the politics (“my youth is too young to understand politics”). White parents also shared more frequently that it was difficult to explain politics to their children: “it's hard to explain to them... what’s right and what’s wrong”. For parents in the BIPOC only group, the impact of contemporary events was salient in their children’s lives: “it's hard to watch the news...with them, you know it's traumatizing to them, and they're very knowledgeable about what's going on.” In addition, BIPOC parents shared more often that systemic trauma has been endured throughout their children’s lives, and contemporary events like the pandemic are adding trauma; “trauma has been a part of our...of [my child’s] life unfortunately earlier on, and so I see this experience that we're going [through] this pandemic is just another form of trauma that families are experiencing.” Parents from all focus groups stated the importance of having difficult conversations with each other.
Conclusions and Implications: Parents play a key role in youth’s socioemotional well-being and understanding of contemporary social events. Supporting parents on having structured conversations with their children could improve socioemotional outcomes for all, as well as the development of equitable youth outcomes.