This column was published in June 2020. The requests for this information continue to grow, making it helpful to revisit.  

When is the right time to talk to children about racism? Are you concerned about not having enough or the right information? Are your kids and teens asking questions about history and race that make you uncomfortable? How do you start anti-racist conversations with children and how do you sustain them over time?

It can be hard to talk with children and students about racism. Conversations about race, the history of discrimination, both interpersonal and systemic, in our country and state, and current protests will likely be different for each family, school, and community. There is no one “best” or “right” way to talk with children about this important issue. At the same time, the research is clear that we can and should start teaching children about kindness, fairness and human rights at a young age.

In August 2019, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a policy brief outlining the health effects of racism on children, adolescents, emerging adults, and their families. Racism negatively affects the environments in which people live, learn, play, and work. For the person who experiences racism, its impact has been linked to differences in such health indicators as infant and maternal mortality, birth weight, and child and adolescent mental health. Prolonged exposure to stress associated with racism leads the bodies of those affected to produce increased stress hormones, which in turn can result in their development of chronic diseases. Systemic racism has impacted access to jobs, education, healthcare, and overall upward mobility. Creating antiracist environments and systems for our children can have lasting health and economic benefits for all people.

When discussing racism with children, it is important to first, increase our personal understanding of this critical issue from a lens of equity and fairness and secondly, to understand and adjust our engagement based on the stages of child development. What follows are some age-appropriate ways and resources, many from UNICEF and the Child Mind Institute, to address racism with children and youth.

Little ones, under age 5:

  1. Be open to all questions. Babies as young as 6 months old begin noticing physical differences including skin color, and by age 5 children can show signs of inclusion or racial bias. Children in this age group commonly ask many questions, and will likely ask about people who look different from them. Encourage their curiosity, recognizing and discussing differences in appearance in positive, prosocial ways.
  2. Celebrate diversity. Introduce diverse cultures and people from different races and ethnicities to children. Early positive interactions help decrease prejudice and encourages more cross-racial group friendships.
  3. Use relatable experts. CNN and “Sesame Street” recently partnered for a special town hall special, “Coming Together: Standing Up to Racism,” where Big Bird, Elmo, Abby Cadabby and others, discussed and explained concepts of protesting and racism. Kids’ direct and heartfelt questions were answered in clear and simple terms that all can understand.


Elementary students and pre-teens:

  1. Encourage this age group to share their feelings about race and racism. Check in, listen, and ask questions. Children are likely to have concerns or questions that they do not know how to express. They may be ambivalent or uncertain, afraid of riots, of being hurt by the police, or worry that something bad could happen to loved ones.
  2. Discuss the media. Ask what they are seeing on TV and social media. Elementary students and pre-teens are becoming more exposed to information and can easily be confused by what they are seeing and hearing. Ask broad questions such as: “How did you feel about what we saw on the news? What did it make you think about?”
  3. Bring diversity into your home and schools. Explore food, stories, and films from other cultures and ethnic backgrounds, discussing the uniqueness and similarities. Advocate for curricula that are multicultural, multilingual, and reflective of diverse communities.



  1. Be ready for strong emotions. This age group is likely to know more than you may think and can also have strong emotional responses. Try to stay calm without hiding your feelings. Let them know that you are also sad and angry, validating that it is good to have a strong reaction to social injustice.
  2. Talk openly about historical racism and the challenges of addressing remaining inequities. This group is beginning to understand complicated and abstract concepts such as fairness, bias, and justice. Ask what they think and introduce them to different perspectives and worldviews to help expand their understanding toward global thinking and local impact.
  3. Encourage action. Many teens are looking for ways to be active in their community and on social media. Help them to act in ways that reflect a dedication to inclusion, unity and personal development.

Do your best to meet each child where they are, developmentally and emotionally. It is important to hear and validate their questions, fears, and emotions. Do not worry if you do not have all the answers. Our children are looking to us as role models and guides. Honest, open, and fact-based conversations about racism, diversity, and inclusion builds lasting trust. Take every opportunity to challenge racist behaviors, practices and policies, demonstrate kindness, and stand up for every person’s right to be treated with dignity and respect.

In the words of my esteemed colleague, Dr. Karlin Tichenor, “Our minority children deserve a world where they can run, walk, protest, and achieve without fear or limits. We all deserve this world.”

A few supporting and additional resources include:

(Tami Silverman is the President & CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute. She may be reached at or on Twitter at @Tami_IYI. IYI’s mission is to improve the lives of all Indiana children by strengthening and connecting the people, organizations, and communities that are focused on kids and youth.)




By: Dr. Tami Silverman   

The end of the school year is in sight, and Covid-19 control measures give us hope that the pandemic is waning. However, we are just starting to understand the effects this past year filled with stress, change, and uncertainty has had on the mental health of students and teachers.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), ADHD, behavior problems, anxiety, and depression are the most commonly diagnosed mental disorders in children. Some of these conditions, such as anxiety and depression, commonly occur together. The American Academy of Pediatrics indicates that the stress, fear, grief, isolation, and uncertainty related to COVID-19 is likely to increase the number of American children that have at least one mental health disorder.    

The key to helping the large number of students with mental health disorders is to understand the scope of the issue, combat the outstanding myths, connect children with treatment, supports, and services, and work to build strong support networks for all our young people.  To effectively respond, we need to recognize the signs of student mental health issues.

It can be difficult to distinguish between the behaviors and emotions that are related to typical child development and those that require extra attention and concern. Occasional emotional distress, anxiety, stress, and depression are normal experiences for all children and youth.

Younger students may exhibit symptoms such as intense worry or fear, frequent outbursts, complaints about stomach aches or headaches with no known medical cause, and a lack of interest in playing with other children. Other common symptoms include trouble falling or staying asleep, separation anxiety, crying more easily, and themes like illness or death during play. And kids in this age group may not talk about or have descriptive words to talk about their feelings.

Symptoms in adolescents include a loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities, sleeping too little or too much, and engaging in risky, destructive or self-harming behaviors. One of the signs of distress with this age group is spending increasing amounts of time alone or avoiding social interactions, something that became commonplace with quarantine and remote school. Even given reduced activities and social distance parameters, signs of distress may include previously outgoing teens that suddenly show little interest in texting, playing video games, or checking social media.

Older teens and young adults have also experienced pandemic-related stressors, including the closure of universities, loss of jobs, and inability to interact with peer groups, all factors that can contribute to poor mental health. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, during the pandemic, a larger than average share of young adults (ages 18-24) report symptoms of anxiety and/or depressive disorder (56%). Both adolescents and young adults often try to hide their struggles because of fear, shame, or a sense of responsibility to avoid burdening others.

Dealing with toggling  between in-person and remote learning, student absences, longer hours, efforts to engage students remotely, and technology access issues made teachers’ jobs exponentially more stressful this year. Education Weekly reports that teachers’ levels of stress and anxiety have soared, while their morale has plummeted. Districts have been challenged to increase support for educators while simultaneously striving to address the social and emotional learning needs of students traumatized by the events of the past year.

We cannot expect that all students and teachers need the same services or supports. At particular risk are our students and educators with preexisting mental illness, and those who are Black and Latinx, who were more likely to have had COVID-19 or to have lost friends or family members. We need to make sure that these historically marginalized students and educators receive a level of services are matched to their individual needs.

Efforts to understand and address social and emotional learning and behavioral and mental health needs of students started long before the pandemic hit. Yet the soaring needs of both students and teachers has put a spotlight on the importance of enhancing and expanding such supports. The American School Counselor Association and the National Association of School Psychologists created a resource addressing the interdependent needs of both groups. The U.S. Department of Education also developed a guidebook to help school districts support educator and staff stability and well-being while also supporting the SEL and mental health needs of their students.

This month we are celebrating the incredible resilience, adaptability, and persistence of our students and educators. By providing mental health supports and services that address the scope of post-pandemic needs, we can back our words of appreciation with needed action.


(Dr. Tami Silverman is the President & CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute. She may be reached at  or on Twitter at @Tami_IYI. IYI’s mission is to improve the lives of all Indiana children by strengthening and connecting the people, organizations, and communities that are focused on kids and youth.)

By: Dr. Tami Silverman   

April is Child Abuse Awareness Month, and the pandemic has raised additional concerns around the safety and well-being of our kids. Public health emergencies, by introducing additional family stress and the loss of financial supports, often increase the risk for child abuse and neglect, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Protection. The reduction or suspension of the critical social supports provided by schools, afterschool, and youth services in the past year also raises risk concerns.

As outlined in our 2021 KIDS COUNT® Data Book, child maltreatment reports have decreased during the pandemic, although this may be due in part to children being home and not in school with mandated reporters. Nationally, educators are the primary reporters of child abuse and neglect, generating about 20.5% of such reports. It was difficult for teachers and other mandated reporters to determine abuse or neglect while only virtually interacting with their classes. Child maltreatment reports are expected to increase once children go back to school in-person full-time, due to the ability of educators to monitor students more frequently and visually assess neglect and abuse.

In 2019, the most recent numbers available, the Indiana Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline received 242,482 reports, a more than twenty percent rise over what was reported in 2014. Approximately 1 out of every 9 hotline reports are determined to be substantiated, resulting in 28,799 child victims of substantiated allegations of child abuse or neglect in 2019, a rate of 18.4 cases of abuse or neglect per every 1,000 Hoosier children. This is an overall increase of 8.1% since 2014 (26,634), although it is a decrease of 11.9% from 2018 (32,799). The most common form of substantiated allegations is neglect (82.9%), followed by sexual abuse (8.8%), and physical abuse (3.5%). Of the 28,799 substantiated allegations, nearly 3 in every 5 involved children under the age of 7.

Every adult in the Indiana is a mandatory reporter of suspected child abuse and neglect. It is critical that we all be familiar with how to report child abuse. A hotline report must be made if you have a reasonable suspicion that child abuse or neglect has occurred. You do not need to have direct knowledge of abuse or neglect. But how do you know what actions correspond to the legal definitions of abuse or neglect?

Indiana’s Child Abuse and Neglect Law, IC 31-34-1, lists definitions for child neglect, physical abuse, psychological maltreatment and sexual abuse. Basic, straightforward lists of both physical and behavioral indicators of each category of maltreatment are as follows:

  • Signs of neglect include: persistent hunger, developmental lags and consistent fatigue.
  • Signs of physical abuse include: unexplained bruises, numerous bruises in various stages of healing, and marks on many surfaces of the body.
  • Signs of sexual abuse include: the child having sexual knowledge advanced for their age, preoccupation with their body, and acting out sexual behavior.

Although each of these signs may be found separately, they often occur in combination.  As a youth worker, teacher, coach, caring family member, or neighbor, you may be in the ideal position to see that something is not right in a child’s life.

The Indiana Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline, 1-800-800-5556, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Reports can be made anonymously. Visit Prevent Child Abuse Indiana’s website ( to learn more and to find awareness events in your area. You can also locate your nearest Prevention Council Child Advocacy Center by visiting their website at

April is designated as Child Abuse Prevention Month, but the work of protecting our children is something we must all commit to every day of the year.


(Dr. Tami Silverman is the President & CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute. She may be reached at  or on Twitter at @Tami_IYI. IYI’s mission is to improve the lives of all Indiana children by strengthening and connecting the people, organizations, and communities that are focused on kids and youth.)

By: Dr. Tami Silverman   

Saying this has been a difficult year for educators and students is like a saying the Indianapolis 500 is a race – an immense understatement. Losses and loneliness due to COVID-19, rising levels of childhood poverty and hunger, and constant uncertainty coupled with pressure to quickly adopt and adapt to new technologies and learning modalities. Post-pandemic days grow ever closer, but what does that mean for Indiana students going forward?

Educators, mentors, and family members are concerned about learning loss resulting from the numerous educational disruptions. Early data from national testing organizations showed, on average, a 5 to 10 percentile drop in math scores for children in the critical third through eighth grades. Drops were particularly notable in the scores of Black and Hispanic students and students attending high-poverty schools, another disproportionate impact of the pandemic on our poor and non-white communities.

McKinsey & Co. has released a study that both projected estimated learning losses while also providing suggestions to address the students most impacted. Specifically looking at learning in math, McKinsey estimated that white students lost three months of academic growth while students of color lost three to five months. Suggested activities to address the learning loss, and expanding opportunity gaps, included: scaling high-intensity tutoring; creating small group academies over school breaks; protecting the neediest school districts from spending cuts; adding academics into summer camp activities; and touching base with missing students and their families weekly beyond virtual media, including in-person home visits and/or food or supply deliveries.

House Bill 1008, the student learning recovery grant program, is currently under consideration in the Indiana State Legislature. The legislation would designate funding, define eligible entities, and establish requirements for student learning acceleration plans. If passed, the bill would take effect immediately, allowing Indiana schools to quickly act to help their students.

In addition to learning loss, there is little doubt that the pandemic has elevated levels of anxiety and depression among students that had these illnesses before the outbreak. Research in the journal Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health also reported that new and/or different fears and behavioral health illnesses have emerged for many of our children and youth. As schools and activities resume, we need to acknowledge the lasting impact that stress, uncertainty, loss, and fear can have. Our task is to prioritize our kids’ mental health and their social and emotional wellbeing, finding the additional supports and services they need to feel safe and secure.

Our kids need the connections found not only in school but also in sports, afterschool programs, and the countless other activities that were scaled back or halted due to health concerns. Summer programs can be a fantastic way to transition back into group interactions. Camps, academies, and out-of-school programs offer learning and developmental growth delivered through fun and engaging models. Playworks, a nonprofit that promotes child development through play activities, recently published practical ways to keep kids active – and socially and emotionally health – this summer. A list of suggestions and resources can be found here and Playworks Indiana can be reached at

Of course, we also must applaud the tremendous efforts made this year by our teachers, counselors, administrators, and everyone working in schools. They have adjusted to new schedules, new technologies, and often complicated new safety requirements. It is not surprising that many educators are feeling stressed and burnt out. Edsurge’s article about supporting educators in 2021, linked here, contains several recommendations and free resources to support teacher efforts, many from the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence.

The need to address youth learning loss, child social and emotional well-being, and educator support is clear. We all benefit when all Indiana students are nourished and prepared to succeed. It will likely be several years before we fully understand the impact the pandemic has had on our kids. Yet there are local and state efforts underway and there are additional actions we can take now to build a pathway to recovery. This year has changed everyone, let’s work together to minimize and offset the negative effects on our students.


January is National Mentoring Month, and MENTOR Indiana, a special initiative of Indiana Youth Institute, is celebrating the annual campaign aimed at expanding quality mentoring opportunities, connecting more of our community’s young people with caring adults.

“Now more than ever, our kids need a network of caring supportive adults. This month we are celebrating the programs and individuals who are already engaged in quality mentoring activities while also looking to increase engagement through our state,” said Dr. Tami Silverman, IYI’s president and CEO.

Caring, empathetic, and dedicated adults who serve as mentors can be vital guides to help kids successfully transition into adulthood. Research shows that mentors play a powerful role in providing young people with the tools to strive and thrive, to attend and engage in school, and to reduce or avoid risky behavior like drug use.

In turn, these young people are:

  • 55% more likely to be enrolled in college
  • 81% more likely to report participating regularly in sports or extracurricular activities
  • 78% more likely to volunteer regularly in their communities.
  • More than twice as likely to say they held a leadership position in a club or sports team.

Yet, the same research shows that one in three young people in our country will grow up without a mentor.  Over the past several decades, 18- to 29-year-olds are more than twice as likely to cite having had a mentor in their childhood than those over 50. This growth is encouraging. However, there are still many adults who may be interested in mentoring but are not yet engaged with a quality program, and hundreds of Hoosier children still missing out on mentoring’s benefits.

Not all mentoring programs are beneficial, and some well-intentioned, yet poorly structured, programs can have negative impacts on kids. MENTOR outlines essential guidance for strong mentoring programs, including:

  1. Programs must set clear expectations for both the mentors and the mentees
  2. Screening needs to include an application, securing a mentor’s commitment, and scheduling of regular face-to-face meetings.
  3. Screening best practices include an in-person interview, a reference check, and a criminal background check.
  4. Mentor training should be provided prior to the match, helping to increase the likelihood of creating positive matches.
  5. Finally, mentorship training and support throughout the relationship is essential.


Mentoring programs are operated by many different organizations and agencies. 79% of youth mentoring agencies are nonprofits, 9% are in K-12 schools or districts, 3% are in government agencies, 3% are in higher education institutions, and the remaining 6% are based in religious institutions, for-profits, healthcare facilities, businesses, and others.

Quality mentoring programs can be found throughout Indiana. To find a program near you, go to

National Mentoring Month is the time of year where engagement from community members interested in becoming a mentor is highest.  With the support of the mentoring community, we are encouraging the public to go beyond just digital engagement – and become involved in real life.  Mentoring relationships are at their best when connections are made between a caring adult and a young person who knows that someone is there to help guide them through those real life decisions.

National Mentoring Month is led by MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, with support from the Highland Street Foundation. Each year since its launch in 2002, National Mentoring Month has enjoyed the strong support of the President and the United States Congress. Other prominent individuals who have participated in the campaign include: Maya Angelou, former President Bill Clinton, Clint Eastwood, Quincy Jones, Cal Ripken Jr.,Bill Russell and Usher.

MENTOR Indiana, a strategic initiative of the Indiana Youth Institute since 2008, empowers youth champions to deliver quality mentoring across the state of Indiana.


About the Indiana Youth Institute: 

For three decades, the Indiana Youth Institute has supported the youth services field through innovative trainings, critical data, and capacity-building resources, aiming every effort at increasing the well-being of all children. To learn more about the Indiana Youth Institute, visit, like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter.




By: Dr. Tami Silverman

Many kids look forward to holiday breaks, with their chances for vacations from school, sleeping late, extra cookies and treats, family, friends, and presents. But this year, like most everything else, COVID-19 has changed and added stress to our holiday plans.

With this year’s unique circumstances, how can we support our children, and youth workers, through the holiday season? Three groups of experts offer helpful advice.

Social Work Today highlights the importance of balancing structured time with downtime. Children and youth do best with routines, especially when it comes to sleep schedules. Aside for the few days you may be celebrating, try to keep children on schedules that has them going to bed and waking up within an hour of their normal times. Dr. Hollie Sobel, a licensed clinical psychologist from Social Work Today, also suggests finding teachable moments that feel more relaxed than school activities. Help with cooking or baking and budgeting for holiday gifts are ways to engage kids in the season while also teaching math and financial skills.

Finding ways to take care of ourselves while also thinking of others is advice from the American Psychological Association. Simple physical activities, like going for walks or shooting hoops, can help kids (and adults) reduce stress. This is also the ideal time of the year to think about strengthening social connections. Although we may not be able to celebrate in-person, we can help our children and youth maintain special connections from a distance. Exchanging special notes, calls, or texts are easy ways for children to connect with positive people in their lives. Let them take the lead in choosing the method and message.

The American Academy of Pediatrics put together a pre-pandemic guide that still offers sound advice for handling times during the holidays that can be hectic and stressful:

Finally, it is crucial that we pay attention to the hardships the pandemic has created for many kids and families. Loss of a family member, job loss, financial stress, and food insecurity have disproportionately impacted families with children, particularly families and children of color.

As caring communities, we can come together to address the needs of our neighbors. Reach out to your local United Way, food bank or community foundations to see how you can help. Teaching children and youth to share their time and resources with others is a life shaping lesson that can benefit our kids for years to come.

Talking to our kids about why and how the holidays will be different can help them develop realistic expectations, while reducing their stress and frustrations. Continue to listen and reinforce that feelings of disappointment, anger, or sadness are all normal. The CDC has many helpful resources for talking with our kids about the pandemic, including this one.

We can all play a role by modeling the importance of health and connection. Give yourself, and the kids in your life, a break. Set aside time to play games, watch movies, or simply laugh with the children in your life. There are a few easy ways to make the season enjoyable, and meaningful, for our kids. It is often the unexpected giggles or unplanned moments that make lasting memories.


(Dr. Tami Silverman is the President & CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute. She may be reached at  or on Twitter at @Tami_IYI. IYI’s mission is to improve the lives of all Indiana children by strengthening and connecting the people, organizations, and communities that are focused on kids and youth.)






By: Dr. Tami Silverman     

It is an understatement to say that things have been different this year. For our children and youth, everything from school schedules and rules, to sports and activities, to interactions with friends have changed.

Because we are still enduring the worst pandemic in a century, Thanksgiving will most likely be different this year as well. How can we stay safe and yet retain our cherished family rituals? How can we help prepare our kids for these changes? And, can we really focus on gratitude despite so many stressors and changes?

Family rituals, such as Thanksgiving dinner, football games and holiday shopping, provide children a sense of social connectedness. And this connectedness can be a protective factor against youth anxiety and depression.

Health experts know that the decisions people make about Thanksgiving may not be easy, but they can be made safer by planning ahead and communicating. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has published guidelines and recommendations for keeping this year’s Thanksgiving gatherings safe (CDC advice on celebrating Thanksgiving safely).

Recommendations include considering connecting in smaller groups, outdoors, or virtually. And if there is someone in the family who disagrees with your approach to or concern about Covid-19, perhaps this is the year to have that discussion by phone, instead of in person.

Although many gatherings will be different this year, there are plenty of ways we can make the holiday meaningful for our children.

Preparing for the holiday:
  1. Help those at high risk. Prepare and deliver traditional family recipes for relatives and neighbors that are at high risk.
  2. Create a shared experience. Let your children make the invitation for a virtual event or develop a playlist.
  3. Share the meal prep. You can build connections by sharing recipes of treasured family favorites. You may be apart from family members, but you can all make the same items and compare notes. Talk about the origins of the recipes, why its special to your family, and who taught you to make it.
On Thanksgiving:
  1. Let the kids take the lead. Whether are home or on a virtual platform, they can start the celebration with a prayer, a song, a joke, or even their own Tik Tok dance.
  2. Prep some conversation starters. The Family Dinner Project has developed a virtual dinner party guide that is filled with activities and discussion starters (Virtual Dinner Party Guide.pdf).
  3. Watch together. You can still enjoy sports, parades, and movies from different locations.
  4. Endure the cold. You never know about Indiana weather, but it is likely to be chilly on Thanksgiving. If you are gathering outside, wear layers, have blankets available, and gather around a fire or heater, if possible.
After the holiday:
  1. Volunteer in your community. Activities like donating food or outgrown clothing help children understand the experiences and needs of others. Kids involved in community service grow into adults that typically have a stronger work ethic, continue to volunteer, and have higher voting rates.
  2. Shop online rather than in person on the day after Thanksgiving or the following Monday.
  3. Continue the connections. Puzzles, neighborhood walks, board games – look for ways to keep the children in your life engaged with each other and caring adults.

Whatever your Thanksgiving looks like this year, it is important we help our children and youth focus on gratitude.  According to Harvard Health Publishing, gratitude is thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible. With gratitude, children acknowledge the goodness in their lives. In the process, they can learn that the source of that goodness lies at least partially outside them. And gratitude has been shown to help kids and adults be resilient through tough times, from experiencing more positive emotions, to reducing stress, to sleeping better.

Youth First, Inc. published an article earlier this fall, Finding Gratitude Amidst a Pandemic, that  challenges us to focus on the pandemic benefits of slowing down and practicing gratitude. This year more than ever, we are grateful for the educators, afterschool providers, coaches, youth group leaders, and youth workers that teach, support, and care for our children. Ask your children to talk about the things they appreciate about some of the important adults in their lives.

It is not easy to skip or amend our favorite holiday traditions. At the same time, this may be the perfect year to shake things up and create new fun. By being flexible and focusing on gratitude, holiday gatherings can be a way to show our kids that building connections with them is what matters most.


(Dr. Tami Silverman is the President & CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute. She may be reached at or on Twitter at@Tami_IYI. IYI’s mission is to improve the lives of all Indiana children by strengthening and connecting the people, organizations, andcommunities that are focused on kids and youth.)   


By: Dr. Tami Silverman     

The pandemic has heightened tensions over this year’s elections, and our kids are paying attention. They listen as negative political ads blare from our TV screens and radios. They see the political rants swirling on social mediaShould we shield our children from the frequently fiery arguments? Should we engage them in discussions and debates? What happens when their friends or family members declare differing political beliefs? How we approach politics with our children is important not only in this heated election cycle, but also in shaping their understanding of democratic civic engagement for years to come. 

A March 2020 study published in Child Psychiatry and Human Development found that children and teens worry about politics and political issues, regardless of their family’s political affiliation. This research and many child development experts suggest that talking to kids about the political process, issues, elections and related media can help. Children as young as preschool can discuss and be engaged in our political process. The challenge is to adjust the approach to their developmental stage. It is important to scaffold our responses, increasing and building the complexity of the information as kids get older.  

The challenge of teaching our kids about civic engagement is not new, and Indiana law requires that the election process be taught in schoolsOver 25 years ago, the Indiana Bar Association created the Indiana Kids’ Election. Using volunteer attorneys, this program aims to help students gain a deeper understanding of, and appreciation for, the many ways we may participate in our representative democracy, including voting, poll books, and “I Voted” stickersThe program’s goal is to educate and empower children with knowledge of the actual process. Most kids would think if 100 people vote for candidate X and 99 people vote for candidate Y, then candidate X wins. With the electoral college, that is not how our Presidential electoral process works, and it is very confusing.   

Not only is our system of government complicated, but public discussion of government,policy and candidates frequently focuses on divides in opinions and perspectives. This means children will inevitably encounter family, friends, teachers, coaches, and others holdingdiffering political beliefs. Experts agree about the importance of teaching kids how to respectdifferences, and of learning how to weigh the evidence supporting political positions and claimsFor many, this may be the most difficult aspect of encouraging a child’s sense of civic responsibility. By focusing in part on the positive attributes of your selected candidates, rather than the negatives of the alternatives, adults have the opportunity and responsibility to model respectful discourse.   

Now is the perfect time for children to get involved in civic societyVote, and take your children with you. Let them volunteer for issues or candidates they support. Share with your children your political views, while also encouraging them to develop their own. Reinforce that people may hold differing opinions about important issues, and that we can challenge claims and disagree while at the same time recognizing and respecting one another’s human dignity. By focusing on the importance of voting and civic engagement, rather than on mudslinging, we can support the healthy growth of our kids and our democracy  

Websites with kid- and teen- friendly news 

Political books and games for kids  

  • Bad Kitty for President by Nick Bruel 
  • Duck for President by Doreen Cronin 
  • Election Connection by Susan Ring 
  • Election Night! board game 
  • Everyone Gets a Say by Jill Twiss 
  • Grace Goes to Washington by Kelly S. DiPucchio 
  • Grace for President by Kelly S. DiPucchio 
  • If I Were President by Catherine Stier 
  • If You Go with Your Goat to Vote by Jan Zauzmer 
  • A Kids Book About Voting by Next Up 
  • Monopoly: House Divided board game  
  • The Next President by Kate Messner 
  • Vote!by Eileen Christelow 
  • One Vote, Two Votes, I Vote, You Vote by Bonnie Worth 
  • A Vote Is a Powerful Thing by Catherine Stier 
  • V Is for Voting by Kate Farrell 


(Dr. Tami Silverman is the President & CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute. She may be reached at or on Twitter at@Tami_IYI. IYI’s mission is to improve the lives of all Indiana children by strengthening and connecting the people, organizations, andcommunities that are focused on kids and youth.)   



By: Dr. Tami Silverman    

One of the COVID-19 pandemic’s many negative consequences is a drastic rise in the number of children and families suffering food insecurity. September is National Hunger Awareness Month. More than ever, we must work to find solutions and support existing ways to meet this critical, foundational need.

The lack of a nutritious, consistent food supply has significant implications for child development and well-being. Children from food-insecure households are more likely to have social and behavioral problems and developmental challenges. Past research, including a study from the National Institutes of Health, found that food insecurity affects the academic performance, body weight, and social skills of school-age children. Elementary-aged children from food-insecure families were found more likely to have lower math scores and to repeat a grade. Teenagers in food-insecure homes were more likely to have mental health issues. Research from the American Academy of Pediatrics found that children in food-insecure household had increased rates of lifetime asthma diagnosis, depressive symptoms, foregone medical care, and emergency department use.

Before Covid-19, the number of hungry children in Indiana and across the country had been declining for years. Prior to the pandemic 1 in 6 Hoosier children were food insecure. Hoosiers living in rural areas tend to have the highest rates of food insecurity, with urban areas a close second. Pre-pandemic child food insecurity rates ranged from 21.0% in Grant County to 11.9% in Hamilton County.

The pandemic has brought an abrupt halt to this progress. Food insecurity rates are, not surprisingly, linked with unemployment rates and income. Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap study predicts how changes in employment will affect food insecurity. Their study projects that a significant rise in unemployment over the year (+7.6 percentage points), and a corresponding rise in child poverty (+5.0 percentage points), would result in 1 in 4 children experiencing food insecurity. Feeding America’s concerns are reinforced by a new report from Save the Children and research from Northwestern University that both estimate that the current percentage of food insecure families is higher than during the Great Recession.

Hoosiers living in rural areas tend to have the highest rates of food insecurity, with urban areas a close second. In addition, No Kid Hungry reports that African American households face hunger at twice the rate of the national average. The higher rates of food insecurity are directly related to the racial wealth gap. Households headed by a single parent also experience food insecurity at significantly higher rates, especially when the head is female, as do households where a child or parent is disabled.

Many organizations and communities have been working to stop the pandemic from perpetuating or deepening these inequities. Food banks, schools, churches, afterschool programs, and community organizations responded quickly last spring to create new channels for food distribution. Drive-thru centers, to-go meals, and drop-off food programs were often specifically designed to address child hunger when school buildings abruptly closed. Schools remain the nation’s second-largest nutrition assistance program, after only the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP) Program. In 2019, 47.3% of Indiana students received free or reduced-price meals: 39.5% received free meals and 7.8% received reduced-price meals at school. In March, Congress created the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (or P-EBT program) for households with children who were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch to receive the cash value of those meals on electronic benefits cards.

As school opening plans varied this fall, there was well-founded concern that our children could end up going hungry. In late August, Feeding Indiana’s Hungry, the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC), Feeding America, the School Nutrition Association, Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign, along with 70 national and state organizations, including Indiana Youth Institute, asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to extend critical nationwide child nutrition program waivers, allowing schools and community organizations to continue operating summer nutrition programs, through the 2020-2021 school year. Members of Congress from both parties supported the extension, which was eventually granted. There is on-going, bi-partisan support for child food security programs, centrally SNAP and Pandemic-EBT, to be strengthened and expanded in response to the pandemic.

We all can play a role in ensuring our children and our neighbor’s children have access to the basic nutritional building blocks needed to grow and succeed. We can and should donate funds and/or food to our local food banks. We also can support the policy solutions that will prevent children from going hungry. Call your elected officials and urge them to continue to support these critical food programs. By addressing the impacts of the pandemic and by working to ensure Hoosier kids have access to adequate, healthy food year-round, we can positively affect every child’s physical and mental well-being, academic achievement, and future economic productivity.


(Dr. Tami Silverman is the President & CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute. She may be reached at  or on Twitter at @Tami_IYI. IYI’s mission is to improve the lives of all Indiana children by strengthening and connecting the people, organizations, and communities that are focused on kids and youth.)


It is an understatement to say that back-to-school this year is unusual and filled with uncertainty. As youth serving professionals, community leaders, and families, our ability to model tolerance of today’s uncertainty will be crucial to helping our children and youth navigate this time. COVID-19 continues to challenge schedules and social interactions. Living with uncertainty while still enjoying learning, friendships, and interactions with supportive adults will be among the important lessons they receive.

School, at its best, is a great place to learn important skills and new ideas, develop friendships, explore new activities, and prepare for future careers. Schools can also expand a student’s world view through learning about world history, languages, cultures, and the arts. The value and skills that professional teachers bring to all of these experiences were spotlighted last spring, as many families faced supporting e-learning tasks at home.

We also know that positive social interactions are good for kids, with a large portion of peer interactions happening at and after school. Schools support students’ social-emotional development including teaching valuable long-term skills such as collaboration, self-regulation, and growth mindset. Research suggests that schools also often support a student’s sense of community and civic engagement.  School buildings provide gathering spaces for organizations, such as PTA meetings, that exist to support students and educators. Schools also provide a range of basic needs and social services, such as food distribution, nursing services, and behavioral health care, to thousands of students.

While the pandemic certainly challenged academic teaching, many educators and parents have identified student social-emotional needs and well-being as their main concerns. The pandemic, and the associated rapid move to remote school last spring, created a sense of isolation for countless children and youth. Many students are waiting for schools to reopen to receive essential counseling and mental health services. Child abuse and neglect are frequently first reported by educators, who are trained to look for warning signs. And in many homes, parents of school-aged children face sustained stress as they attempt to balance work and economic concerns with childcare and education changes.

Classrooms are not the only sources for student learning and development. Education outside of the classroom takes many forms – sports, camps, community centers, clubs, and more – and the caring adults leading these programs have adapted their services, creating innovations to connect students with mentors, quality programming, and support services.

Local afterschool programs are a crucial part of every communities’ youth services, providing hands-on learning, leadership opportunities, creative expression and enrichment programs, peer interactions, and workforce support, while also offering families safe and reliable student oversight beyond school hours. In a recent survey, 70% of afterschool programs reported that they continued to serve students in some capacity through the pandemic. Afterschool programs also serve many communities of color, immigrant populations, and low-income families, addressing inequities that have increased as a result of COVID-19.

While school has been a source of positive support and growth for some students, significant opportunity gaps existed across our school systems long before this coronavirus. Risks associated with in-person school include bullying, racism, group exclusion, anxiety, stress, and increased risks of suicide.

The pandemic has raised awareness of the economic and racial disparities that prevent equal access to essential school services. The lack of educational resources and underfunding of schools and afterschool opportunities for communities of color and families with low incomes have left many students without access to all of the benefits school intends to offer. This underscores the need for responsive efforts that level the playing field for vulnerable children. Furthermore, major racial disparities in student discipline rates have been documented for years.

While some kids flourished in the pre-crisis school structure, others did not. Some kids were able to sustain peer relationships within all safety standards while others were isolated either physically, emotionally, or both. The pressures on our students, families, afterschool providers and educators are immense. We can and should be looking for ways to support and uplift all that are working to navigate these uncertain times.

According to a recent survey from USA Today, there appears to be agreement that: we are worried about our children, distance learning is difficult, teachers are working harder, and children will eventually be able to make up lost ground. Experts have developed recommendations for safely reopening schools under certain conditions, including reports from the Centers for Disease Control, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. Local schools around the state are exploring complex plans that look to manage the health risks of the virus and the risks of prolonged social isolation. But experts also point out that in-person schooling, if not executed safely, could lead to mental-health, as well as physical health, concerns.

There are many ways we can both protect our students and nourish their academic and social-emotional wellbeing. As we move forward, let’s be flexible in supporting all forms of learning. Let’s support the dauntless teachers and youth workers dedicating their professional lives to helping children. Let’s work to reduce the pressure of grades, tests, social expectations, and constant achievement that we routinely place on kids. At the same time, we can continue to innovate and reimagine education to effectively use and access technology. We must also adjust our efforts to acknowledge the differing impacts on our underserved kids. This is a challenge we will be working on throughout the fall, the school year, and the foreseeable future.


(Dr. Tami Silverman is the President & CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute. She may be reached at  or on Twitter at @Tami_IYI. IYI’s mission is to improve the lives of all Indiana children by strengthening and connecting the people, organizations, and communities that are focused on kids and youth.)