Stephen Lawrence’s brother Stuart shares his advice for encouraging children to speak up

Arielle Tchiprout
·6-min read
Photo credit: none
Photo credit: none

How do you raise children who will speak up for themselves, and will speak out against injustice? This is a question so many parents ask ourselves on a regular basis – and who better to offer guidance than educator, motivational speaker and author Stuart Lawrence.

Stuart’s knowledge in this area is unique. He is the younger brother of Stephen Lawrence, the 18-year-old man who was murdered in London in 1993, in a racially-motivated attack.

“Young people all need trusted adults; someone they can speak to when they’re not sure what direction their life is going to go in,” says Stuart. “For me, that was my brother. If I was unsure about something, I’d ask him. He was a guiding light.”

Photo credit: Handout - Getty Images
Photo credit: Handout - Getty Images

After Stephen’s death, Stuart and his family – including his mother Doreen, father Neville and sister Georgina – campaigned tirelessly for justice, resulting in reforms to the legal system, and government reports aimed at improving police attitudes to racism. Now, Stephen’s life – and the journey his family went on – is commemorated on Stephen Lawrence Day, on 22nd April, the anniversary of his death.

With his big brother always at the back of his mind, Stuart has dedicated his adult life to empowering young people through his work as a teacher. Why? “Because children are the future,” he says. And now, he’s just released his first book aimed at pre-teens called Silence is Not an Option (Scholastic), to encourage them to always try their best, and to stand up for what they believe in.

“I want to tell young people that it’s not every day where you’ll be required to stand up and speak out,” says Stuart. “My family and I never set out to achieve what we did – we just wanted justice for Stephen, and everything that happened was part of the journey. I want to enable young readers to be ready for that time, where they might be called upon to do the right thing. That might be having a quiet word with their best friend who they know has done something inappropriate, or campaigning to make the world better.”

Here, he recommends his best advice for how parents can raise children who will speak out when the time comes.

Nurture their questioning

It can be frustrating when young people constantly ask "why?" but I love the fact that kids want to know all the answers, and they want to formulate opinions for themselves. Just because we don’t know the answer, doesn’t mean we should shut them down. I always tell my 10-year-old son, Theo, that I’m on a learning path too; even though he might see me as an oracle, I’m still learning as well. It’s okay to say, "good question – I’m going to get back to you", or to suggest doing some research together. Maybe there’s a book about the subject you can read together. It’s a great way to encourage children to dig deeper for answers. Rather than being susceptible and placid, we need young people to be adventurous and inquisitive.

Praise them for effort and attitude

For children to speak up, they need to feel confident – so they need to feel like they’re capable of doing something well. However, I think it’s important to always focus on praising their actions and their attitude. If you tell them they’re good at football, then the day they don’t do a good job, they might feel like they’ve fallen short and this could really knock their confidence. But if you say, "you put in a lot of hard work and effort into football", they’ll know that if they don’t succeed on one occasion, they can just try harder next time. This will encourage children to be more resilient.

Encourage humility

It’s so important to teach children to treat others with respect, have good manners and always be polite to people. I say to my son that we are all human beings – I don’t see myself as more or less important than anyone else. I say, "I’m just a grain of sand on the beach of life, and you are too." When children understand that we’re all just as important as each other, it will give them a strong moral compass.

Photo credit: FluxFactory - Getty Images
Photo credit: FluxFactory - Getty Images

Speak to them about privilege

I always start conversations about privilege with a question to the child: "what is privilege? And do you have one?" I will explain that we all have privileges, and tell them about mine – I can see, I can hear, I can use my brain, I live in a house, I have a car – all of those things can be seen as privileges. This will help get them thinking about areas where they might have privileges over others. I explain that some privileges are seen and some are not as visible, and some people have privileges that they acquire throughout their lives, while others have them from birth. This is a really helpful way in to explaining tough topics like racial discrimination and sexism.

Ground them in morality

It can be hard keeping young people on the straight and narrow – especially when they have social media and peer groups to contend with. We can’t control all of these external factors, and it’s important to recognise that they are not mini-versions of ourselves, and they’ll never have the same upbringings we had, as life is so different now. All we can try and do is give them the best grounding we can. I tell my son that, whenever he’s not with me and his mum, we expect that he is representing us. My hope and dream is that he is respectful, kind and that he always does the right thing. He knows that if he doesn’t do that, we would feel upset and disappointed. Sometimes parents have these kinds of expectations when it comes to grades or achievements, but, for me, expecting your child to be the best version of themselves is the most important thing. In the long run, this will probably mean they’ll achieve more too.

Silence is Not an Option: You Can Impact the World for Change by Stuart Lawrence is out now. BUY NOW.

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