Friends are relatives you make for yourself. ~Eustache Deschamps
“Peer groups have an important impact on children by at least 5 to 6 years of age” (Bigler, 1995)
1. Aboud & Levy, 2000; Ellison & Powers, 1994; Pettigrew, 1997; 1998; Pettigrew & Tropp, 2000. Lease & Blake, 2005.
As I continue to research the subject of race, and how children address the differences they notice in each other, I keep finding information that reminds me how important it is for each of us to have friends from other cultures.
One study found that, "children with at least one reciprocated high quality interracial friendship were more socially skilled, rated higher on a sociability measure, and participated in more diverse social networks than children with no interracial friendships." (Hunter & Elias, 1999)
It seems appears that, when we give our children opportunities to be friends with children from other cultures, we give them academic, behavioral and social advantages, and even help decrease racial prejudice as they grow into adults.¹
But will they choose these friendships on their own, or do we have to help? Rebecca Bigler, a researcher at the University of Texas, contends that children may extend their beliefs about shared appearances and assume that the kids who look similar to themselves also enjoy doing the same things. Which infers that the children who look different will probably enjoy doing different things, and they might have nothing in common, so why try to be friends? Even a study on interracial friendships between college students (which you can read here) discussed how white students who were randomly paired with black roommates ended up having more black friends than white students who were assigned to white roommates.
Do we accept people of different colors and racial backgrounds to be our friends, as adults? Should we? I think so. Do we specifically try to arrange playdates for our children with other children from different cultures? Do we invite children of all races to play at our houses after school? Giving our children the chance to discover what they have in common with someone who looks a little different than they do, is incredibly important, especially when they are young, but really, all their lives.
As parents, let’s encourage our children to mingle – let’s make sure we give them opportunities to meet children from different cultures and ethnic backgrounds so their lives are richer and fuller and they have a better chance of growing into adults without racial prejudice.