A study recently published in the Journal of Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology has found that children as young as seven years old suffer the effects of discrimination. The study was conducted at UC Riverside by Tuppet Yates, a UC Riverside psychology professor, and Ana Marcelo, an assistant professor of psychology at Clark University.
According to a child psychologist studies in the past had determined that children at age seven could identify racism, but Yates and Marcelo’s study is the first to look at the impacts of discrimination on children younger than 10 years old. The study focused on the experiences of discrimination of 172 seven-year-old children. Half of the group was boys and the other half was girls, and 56% of the children were Latino, 19% were black, and 25% were multiethnic-racial.
The study started with Yates and Marcelo giving the children a definition of discrimination. They then asked the children a series of questions about if they had experienced certain situations because of the color of their skin, their culture or country of origin, or their language or accent. Despite Spanish being the second most-spoken language in the world, even children who speak Spanish have insults directed at them by peers and adults alike. The researchers asked questions that covered relationships with these peers, teachers, and general relationships.
The next year, the researchers gave the children a definition of ethnicity and explained that there are many different ethnic groups in the United States. They then asked the children to rate statements as true or not regarding whether or not they understand what their ethnic background means to them or if they know a lot about their ethnic background.
This last step allowed Yates and Marcelo to factor in ethnic-racial identity, ERI, which reflects an individual’s beliefs and attitude towards their ethnic and racial group. The study found that among children with below-average ERI scores, the reported experiences of discrimination led to an increased impact on behavior problems. When children had better-developed ERI, experiences of discrimination did not significantly predict these problems.
For years, research has shown the negative effects of discrimination on teenagers and adults in the forms of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. A five-year study by researchers in Iowa, Georgia, and California found that racism can lead to depression and behavioral problems. A study of over 700 young black people found that children who endured racist name-calling, insults, and stereotyping were more likely to report mood swings, difficulty concentrating, and trouble sleeping.
As the 91,503 workplace discrimination charges in the United States in 2016 shows, discrimination continues well into adulthood. While parents may not be able to prevent others from discriminating against their children, Yates and Marcelo suggest that by encouraging a sense of belonging to their ethnic groups, parents can help children create a buffer to the effects of discrimination.
“Parents and caregivers should acknowledge that ethnicity, race, and culture are active elements in a child‘s life,” said Marcelo.