A recent study from scholars at the University of California, Riverside has found that children as young as seven are sensitive to and suffer from the impacts of discrimination. The study also suggests that a strong sense of ethnic-racial identity is a significant buffer against these negative effects.
The researchers interviewed a large group of 7-year olds, half girls and half boys. First, the participating children were given a definition of discrimination and were then asked a series of questions that gauged their experience with discrimination, such as “Have you ever in your life had someone not be with friends with you because of the color of your skin, your language or accent, or your country of origin?”
One year later, the same group of children received a definition of ethnicity and then were asked to rate statements such as “I have often talked to other people to learn more about my ethnic group,” and “I understand pretty well what my ethnic background means to me.”
The results showed that experiences of discrimination predicted increased internalized and externalized behavior problems among children with below-average ethnic-racial identity, but these same experiences did not significantly predict problems among children with better-developed ethnic-racial identity.
The research team believes that efforts to promote a sense of understanding about and belonging to one’s ethnic-racial group in early development can help buffer children who are vulnerable to discrimination. They suggest that schools should have books and learning materials that represent people of color as well as host community events that allow children to experience their cultures through food, art, and music.
The study, “Young Children’s Ethnic–Racial Identity Moderates the Impact of Early Discrimination Experiences on Child Behavior Problems,” was published in the Journal of Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology. It may be accessed here.