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Cross-Ethnic Friendships Help Adolescents Feel Safer

Update Date: Sep 24, 2013 03:26 PM EDT

Friendships across ethnic groups in urban middle schools help protect adolescents from feeling vulnerable and lonely, according to a new study.

Researchers also found that these relationships can help adolescents feel safer.

The findings may help educators oversee student interactions, as the population of children in the U.S. grows increasingly diverse.

The research involved 536 Latino and 396 African American sixth graders from 66 classrooms in 10 urban American middle schools that varied in ethnic diversity and were in predominantly low-income neighborhoods.

The students were asked to report on the number of same- and cross-ethnic friends they had, how vulnerable they felt, the quality of their friendships and their ethnic identity.

Researchers found that cross-ethnicity friendships increased as the ethnic diversity of classrooms rose. Adolescents who reported cross-ethnic friendships also reported feeling less vulnerable, less lonely, less victimized by peers and safer at school.

Previous studies found that greater classroom diversity predicted less vulnerability. Researchers said that this could 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. Researchers said the latest 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," lead researcher Sandra Graham, professor of human development and psychology in the Department of Education at UCLA, said in a news release. "The composition of classrooms can play a facilitative role."

The findings are published in the journal Child Development.

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