Children as young as age 7 are sensitive to and suffer from the impacts of discrimination, according to a new study.
The study by scholars at the University of California, Riverside — “Young Children’s Ethnic–Racial Identity Moderates the Impact of Early Discrimination Experiences on Child Behavior Problems” — also suggests that a strong sense of ethnic-racial identity is a significant buffer against these negative effects.
Researchers interviewed a large group of 7-year-olds, half girls and half boys. The participating children were first given a definition of discrimination and 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?”
A year later, the same group of children were given the definition of ethnicity and 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 while experiences of discrimination predicted increased internalized and externalized behavior problems among children with below-average ethnic-racial identity, the same experiences failed to significantly predict problems among children with better-developed ethnic-racial identity.
The research team suggests 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 is published in the Journal of Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology.