TL;DR – We seem to have a made a little progress. book/conversations were productive and he may be opening up more. Time will tell.
So i posted this original post in a sense of defeat after finding racist language, memes, etc on his phone again after he had lost his phone/etc for 3 months due to a very bad episode. He had been acting better so we felt we were maybe making some progress. He had gotten his stuff back a few weeks before with the explicit warning that he is not to view/use/etc that kind of content on the phone we provide or he would lose it. When I saw the stuff on his phone that day, I was demoralized yet again.
Husband and I confronted him about this last week. He was suprisingly remorseful in a way we have never seen before, usually he’s very hostile about this stuff. He was a little defensive but we tried to convey that we think he is a good person but that the words/ideas he is using are very harmful. We discussed some reasons why the N word is damaging and its not ok to use even if the black kids at school are using it. We’ve had this conversation before, but I did share a new perspective of Ta-Nehisi Coates about how that word was the last word many black people heard before they were beaten, lynched, raped, or tormented/killed. I think that registered with him. He sincerely apologized but also conveyed its hard bc his friends use the word. I told him I cannot control his friends, but he knows better, and we expect more from him.
Instead of just taking his stuff again, I decided to try a different approach since he seemed more open. I assigned him a book to read – The New Jim Crowe by Michelle Alexander – and told him I wanted a summary and analysis of each chapter and when he finished the book, he would be able to get his stuff back assuming no other issues. I also said if we see that stuff on his devices again, he will lose them for a longer period next time.
He actually sent very thoughtful summaries/analysis of the chapters. It prompted some good discussions where he expressed a lot of concern for people being disenfranchised by felony convictions. He said he felt there was an element of personal responsibility that the author was ignoring, and I confirmed that is always a part of the puzzle… but there are other factors that can make it very hard to succeed/avoid trouble. I talked about some personal experiences Ive had with poor/disadvantaged youth and how the neighborhoods they grow up in can sometimes put them in a bubble where they cant imagine better for themselves, just like the bubble he lives in where its hard to imagine making some of the bad choices he is concerned about. He engaged in a productive way and I felt like maybe he at least heard my/the authors perspective. I told him I didnt expect him to just believe everything he read without questioning, but I hoped the book might expand his perspective, and it did seem to.
I encouraged him to try to keep an open mind and understand that we all face different challenges and its better to try to understand people than to judge them. I asked him how he feels when someone is harsh on him vs how he feels when someone is patient/understanding with him, and how each of those approaches affect how he responds to a situation. I reminded him we are all humans and have those same reactions to good/bad approaches.
Anyways, since there was a lot of interest in this thread, I figured it was worthwhile to update. I dont have any illusions that we have “solved” the problem… but I do feel that maybe maturity is kicking in and we are chipping away at it some. I’ll call that a win for now, and we will continue to try to reach him. He’s a junior in high school, so we have at least another ~1.5 years to try to help get through to him.