Cross-ethnic friendships in urban middle schools make youths feel less vulnerable, safer

September 24, 2013, Society for Research in Child Development

Friendships matter throughout life, and in early adolescence they provide validation and emotional support. Now a new study has found that friendships across ethnic groups in urban middle schools help protect youths from feeling vulnerable, making them feel less lonely and at the same time safer. As the population of children in the United States grows increasingly diverse, this study has implications for how educators oversee student interactions.

The study, by researchers at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) and the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, appears in the journal Child Development.

Researchers looked at 536 Latino and 396 African American sixth graders from 66 classrooms in 10 urban American middle schools that varied in and were in predominantly low-income neighborhoods. The students reported on the number of same- and cross-ethnic friends they had, how vulnerable they felt, the quality of their , and their .

Cross-ethnicity friendships increased as the ethnic diversity of classrooms rose, the study found. Youths who reported these friendships felt less vulnerable—less lonely, less victimized by peers, and safer at school—according to the findings. Earlier work by the same researchers found that greater classroom diversity predicted less vulnerability, and the researchers suggest that this may be because diverse classrooms have both more ethnic groups and groups of about the same size, which means that no one ethnic group is numerically more powerful than any other group. The current findings suggest that cross-ethnic friendships might partly explain the link between diversity and vulnerability.

"Students benefit when they take advantage of opportunities for cross-ethnic contact in forming friendships," explains Sandra Graham, professor of human development and psychology in the Department of Education at UCLA, who led the study. "The composition of classrooms can play a facilitative role."

Graham and her colleagues suggest that, even in ethnically diverse schools, administrators and teachers need to be especially sensitive to how organizational and instructional practices, such as academic tracking, promote or inhibit opportunities for students from different to interact.

Explore further: Life purpose buffers bad moods triggered by diversity

Related Stories

Life purpose buffers bad moods triggered by diversity

September 4, 2013
Being in the minority in an ethnically diverse crowd is distressing, regardless of your ethnicity, unless you have a sense of purpose in life, reports a Cornell developmental psychologist.

Awareness of ethnicity-based stigma found to start early

August 30, 2011
Students are stigmatized for a variety of reasons, with youths from ethnic-minority backgrounds often feeling devalued in school. New research on young children from a range of backgrounds has found that even elementary school ...

Recommended for you

People with prosthetic arms less affected by common illusion

January 22, 2018
People with prosthetic arms or hands do not experience the "size-weight illusion" as strongly as other people, new research shows.

Intensive behavior therapy no better than conventional support in treating teenagers with antisocial behavior

January 19, 2018
Research led by UCL has found that intensive and costly multisystemic therapy is no better than conventional therapy in treating teenagers with moderate to severe antisocial behaviour.

Babies' babbling betters brains, language

January 18, 2018
Babies are adept at getting what they need - including an education. New research shows that babies organize mothers' verbal responses, which promotes more effective language instruction, and infant babbling is the key.

Inherited IQ can increase in early childhood

January 18, 2018
When it comes to intelligence, environment and education matter – more than we think.

College branding makes beer more salient to underage students

January 18, 2018
In recent years, major beer companies have tried to capitalize on the salience of students' university affiliations, unveiling marketing campaigns and products—such as "fan cans," store displays, and billboard ads—that ...

Modulating molecules: Study shows oxytocin helps the brain to modulate social signals

January 17, 2018
Between sights, sounds, smells and other senses, the brain is flooded with stimuli on a moment-to-moment basis. How can it sort through the flood of information to decide what is important and what can be relegated to the ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.