Science

Overhearing just ONE racist comment from a parent can have a lasting impact on children’s views

Overhearing just ONE racist comment from a parent can have a lasting impact on children’s views, scientists warn

  • Children overheard a Skype call mentioning two groups – ‘Flurps’ or ‘Gearoos’
  • Some of the children heard negative messages, such as ‘Flurps are bad people’
  • Children aged 7-9 who overheard the negative messages were less willing to be friends with someone from the fictional group

Overhearing just one racist comment from a parent can have a lasting impact on children’s views, a new study has warned.

Researchers mimicked a situation in which children might overhear derogatory messages about a new social group.

They found that overhearing a stranger’s negative claims about a social group can have a lasting influence on children’s attitudes towards the group – even in a brief comment.

The researchers hope the findings will encourage parents to consider what is said around children.

Overhearing just one racist comment from a parent can have a lasting impact on children’s views, a new study has warned (stock image)

Racism among children in the UK 

Racism and racial abuse or bullying can be really distressing for children and young people.

When a child is or treated differently because of their race, it can lead to feelings of isolation, anger or even shame about their race or how they look.

Worryingly, in 2019/20, Childline delivered 547 counselling sessions where racist bullying, racism or being bullied for spiritual, cultural or religious reasons were mentioned.

In the same year, there were 75 contacts to the NSPCC helpline from adults with concerns about these issues.

Source: NSPCC 

In the study, researchers from Vanderbilt University set out to understand how and why children start to discriminate against societies.

Emily Conder, who led the study, explained: ‘Findings from our work suggest that overhearing a negative conversation about an unfamiliar social group may influence intergroup biases among older children.’

In the study, 121 children played a game while they overheard one of the researchers receive a Skype call from either a child or adult.

During the call, the researcher mentioned one of two fictional groups – the ‘Flurps’ or ‘Gearoos.’

Some of the children heard negative messages about the group, such as ‘The Flurps are bad people. They eat disgusting food and they wear such weird clothes.’

The children’s attitudes about the group were measured both immediately after the call, and again two weeks later.

At the end of the study, the children were debriefed by the team and told that Gearoos and Flurps were ‘not real groups of people, but if they were real, they would probably be very nice people.’

An analysis of the children’s reactions revealed that the messages had little effect on young children aged four to five.

However, older children (7-9 years) who overheard the negative messages were less willing to be friends with someone from the fictional group, and rated the group as being less good.

This effect lasted for at least two weeks after the children heard the messages, according to the researchers.

The findings indicate that hearing just one derogatory message about a new social group can have a lasting impact on children.

Ms Conder added: ‘Caregivers should consider what is said around children and regulate the media they consume, as what children overhear about groups of people can influence their attitudes and behaviours.’

Worryingly, in 2019/20, Childline delivered 547 counselling sessions where racist bullying, racism or being bullied for spiritual, cultural or religious reasons were mentioned (stock image)

Worryingly, in 2019/20, Childline delivered 547 counselling sessions where racist bullying, racism or being bullied for spiritual, cultural or religious reasons were mentioned (stock image)

The team now suggests that future studies should focus on how children’s attitudes are affected if video callers speak directly to them.

Worryingly, in 2019/20, Childline delivered 547 counselling sessions where racist bullying, racism or being bullied for spiritual, cultural or religious reasons were mentioned.

In the same year, there were 75 contacts to the NSPCC helpline from adults with concerns about these issues.

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