It’s more common than you think. And it starts early. Research shows Black children experience adultification bias as early as age 4.

Many of the experiences in Lost Innocence — a five-part series that explains why Black children experience more adultification than non-Black children, how this adultification shows up in adulthood, and how parents and teachers can put a stop to it — will feel all too familiar for folks in our community.

As a reporter, I could not include everything people shared in the articles I wrote. But to amplify the brave voices of those who went on the record, I want you to listen to their stories in their own words. To really hear them.

Some have experienced child sexual abuse. Others were sexualized as young girls. And teenage boys have been racially profiled by police.

Children are left at the mercy of adults. As you listen, consider a couple of questions: What kind of children do you want to raise? Why are Black children not seen as children? And, as an adult, what can I do better in my treatment of Black kids?

Abraham Jarvis

Abraham Jarvis, an 18-year-old young Black man from southeastern San Diego, spoke about his experiences with the San Diego Police Department. Since the moment he started driving, he says he has been racially profiled.

One of the more frightening incidents he had with the police was last year after he says he was pulled over for switching lanes. The encounter left him in fear for his life as the police searched his car without his permission and temporarily detained him in the back of a police car. As the oldest of two younger siblings, he shares his worries and concerns for his little brothers.

Amir Gilmore

Amir Gilmore has a doctorate in cultural studies and social thought in education and is an assistant professor at Washington State University. He is an avid researcher of how adultification bias and anti-Blackness intersect.

In an interview, he says people need to look at how teachers, adults, and police officers are over-disciplining Black children.

Gilmore shares how adults stop viewing Black boys as children around age 6 — and the impact of this on them.

Photo courtesy of Amir Gilmore.

Cherry DeJesus

Cherry DeJesus is a mother in Paterson, New Jersey. As a child, she experienced years of sexual abuse and a lack of protection from her mother and the adults around her. DeJesus is a survivor and talked about how adultification contributed to her years of abuse.

As a mother, she says it’s always been important to not repeat the pattern of abuse she was raised in and to protect her children. She became hyper-vigilant as an adult and didn’t let her daughter go to the bathroom by herself until she was 15.

Chrishana Bunting

Chrishana Bunting is a 16-year-old Lincoln High School sophomore in San Diego. Throughout her pre-teen and teen years, she has experienced different forms of adultification bias and its intersection with anti-Blackness.

Ranging from jokes about her skin tone to inappropriate sexual comments from adult men, and pressure to act more mature in school. She tells a brief story about one of her first encounters being sexualized when she was 13.

She was candid about the toll this has taken on her childhood and her mental health. Chrishana says she is focused on school and is looking to the future in hopes that things will get better as a young Black woman.

Jasmine Young

Jasmine Young is a policy analyst at the National Health Law Program. Her research is focused on police violence, health, and equity issues in minority communities. Part of her work looks at how anti-Blackness impacts the health of the Black community, and the intersection of adultification bias.

She spoke about how police inherently perpetuate adultification bias on Black youth.

Photo courtesy of Jasmine Young.

Kahlib Barton

Kahlib Barton is a non-binary person, who uses he/ they pronouns. Now as an adult, he reflected on his time in high school. He says adult men would sexualize him as a teen. And school administrators would surveil the Black students, inaccurately labeling their Black student lead clubs as “gang-related.” When asked about how police presence in school impacted Black students, he says they were over-disciplined.

Laila Aziz

Laila Aziz is the director of Pillars of the Community, a faith-based organization focused on helping people affected by the criminal justice system in San Diego. As a prominent advocate in the community, she says the San Diego Police Department has a racial profiling issue and accountability problem.

Lizette Pierce

Lizette Pierce is a 16-year-old Lincoln High School sophomore in San Diego. Starting at age 12, adults made sexual comments about her body — behavior that continues while she goes to and from school and almost anytime she leaves the house. She says attending a predominately Hispanic high school, multiple students have called her the n-word and her teachers don’t do anything to stop it.

When asked if she feels like adults expect her to act more mature, she says yes. Part of it, Lizette says, are the expectations coming from her parents, who she realizes had a different experience growing up Black in America.

Megan Freeland

Megan Freeland is the director of health communications at Planned Parenthood. When she was a young Black girl growing up she says family members called her fast and constantly monitored her clothing. One uncle commented when she was between 15-17 that she had “bedroom eyes.”

Megan also reflected on the comments people would make about her skin complexion. Now, as a mother of two young children, she says there are lots of things she is working to unlearn while raising her children.

Megan speaks to parents with Black children, helping them to recognize the importance of not repeating these generational patterns. A popular concept she is working towards is called re-parenting. This is where parents work to identify triggers from their childhood and work towards healing.

Sara Flowers

Sara Flowers is the vice president of education at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. She has a doctorate in public health and focuses on sex education while centering on Black youth.

As a sex educator, she talks about the dangers of adults assigning a negative value to a Black child’s developing body, and why it’s important to give affirming messages to youth, as many of them may struggle during puberty and into adolescence.

Sara C. Flowers, vice president of education at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Photo by Clemence Poles. Courtesy of Planned Parenthood.

Shamari White

Shamari White is a communications associate in Washington, D.C. Growing up with religious grandparents, she says comments about her clothing were constant. To avoid wearing anything revealing or tight, she wore baggy clothes in middle and high school. 

She dressed “like a boy” during those years. But that’s when questions about her sexuality started. People assumed she was gay. She felt like she was stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Now as an adult, she’s not afraid to check family members and adults around her who make comments about little Black girls. She says her experiences have made her more protective of Black children.

Tamica Jean-Charles

Tamica Jean-Charles is an education reporter in Chicago, Illinois. She was candid about her experience attending predominately white schools while growing up. White students bullied her and sexualized her. And, adults outside of the classroom made inappropriate sexual comments to her, starting at age 9.

She says these experiences confused her and contributed to bouts of low self-esteem. When asked if she felt she had to remain silent about these situations, she says “there was just no point in saying anything.” After coming out as a lesbian, she reflects on how these experiences impacted her self-worth.

Terri Watson

Terri Watson is an associate professor of educational leadership at the City College of New York and has done extensive research on Black feminist theory and motherwork.

As a Black woman, she knows all too well what it is like to be a Black girl. She says we need to do a better job of celebrating Black girls, protecting them, and uplifting them.

Photo courtesy of Terri Watson.

This story is part of the Lost Innocence: The Adultification of Black Children seriesand was produced in collaboration with the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism.

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