Lynn VanderWielen, PhD, MPH
Bullying Kids for their Multiracial Identity
At Samahra we talk about the two critical facets of supporting healthy, positive, and celebrated multiracial identity for our kids: connection with cultures and community, and preparation for bias. Bias shows up in many forms and today we are talking about bullying.
A few studies have shown that multiracial teens are often the target of bullying in school compared to their monoracial peers, especially their monoracial White peers.1 Teens seek peer groups and individual friends based on perceived similarities - hobbies they have in common, the neighborhood they are from, and the racial identity that they hold, for example. In the psychology literature, this is referred to as ‘in-groups’ and ‘out-groups’ as related to where the teen finds belonging. As humans, we tend to have a favorable impression of those we consider in our ‘in-groups’ and have a negative bias for those we see as our ‘out-groups’. This doesn’t only happen with teens - think of how you have judged another parent or family based on the car they drive, the clothes they wear, and their hobbies.
Here is a good example - think of how you feel when you are cut off in traffic and see a license plate from another state - what are your gut reactions to simply seeing where the car is from? I live in Colorado and I always give a pass to those with plates from Wisconsin, where I was born and raised, because it must have been unintentional. But when I see a plate from California or Massachusetts I immediately assume they are a bad driver and inconsiderate. This is a prime example of my biases around in-grouping and out-grouping. (My apologies to those from California and Massachusetts, I know you are wonderful people! I am trying to identify and reorient my biases!)
When it comes to our multiracial kids, they often struggle to find acceptance within groups they identify, specifically due to their perceived ambiguous racial status. In other words, they know where they want to be a part of an ‘in-group’ but find that they are seen as an outsider. As they are now a part of the ‘out-group’, this status can lead to bullying, feeling isolated, and feeling unaccepted.
Like all things in the world of social science, the factors that impact both bullying and being bullied* are complex. So what can we do about it? Research shows that kids learn from, and are influenced heavily by, family (us!!), peers and friends, and school.
Evidence suggests that kids with open and supportive communication with their parents and caregivers are less likely to be bullied, or are less likely to be negatively impacted by bullying. Further, evidence shows that positive relationships with siblings/family members who have similar experiences can protect teens from being bullied or negatively impacted by bullying.
Please note that supportive relationships are related to a lower likelihood to be bullied, not that they won’t be bullied. If your child is being bullied, you should not immediately assume it is your fault or that you somehow caused the bullying. As with everything, reflect on what could be done better and try not to internalize guilt if it is not warranted. (Easier said than done, though right?). Try to identify your blind spots and talk to your child about how you could do better.
Peers and Friends
Research shows many important benefits of friendships during adolescence including companionship, engagement, and support. We need to help our kids to understand healthy and consensual relationships with peers such that their peer groups are uplifting, confirming, and supportive. Our kids see our own relationships and set the foundation for what they see as healthy and acceptable.
School and Learning Environments
In-person bullying most often happens in school and educational settings. When students believe that their teachers will take an active role in intervening in bullying, including separating involved students and engaging with parents and leadership as needed, they are more likely to report bullying.2 This also includes creating a positive classroom environment where students feel trusted, valued, and supported.
As parents, we can have conversations with our kids about how they feel in their school setting and help them to identify trusted teachers and leadership that will advocate for their physical and mental wellness. We have also created the samahra(rise) app for multiracial kids as a space for belonging and not having to prove their ‘in-group’ status. This free resource will be available any day now - we are working through the review process.
As we seek to support our multiracial kids in their journey to understand who they are and who they want to be, it is important for us to not only connect them with their cultures and their ‘in-groups’, we also need to prepare them for biases and discrimination (this is where many parents get stuck). As we create and nurture safe and trusted communication with our kids, we need to talk about issues of bullying, healthy and consensual peer relationships, and identifying advocates in our children’s lives.
In the Samahra Community, we provide daily evidence-based reading, actionable reflection, and a place to connect with other families like ours. Download our app today to learn more about topics tailored specifically for our multiracial and multicultural families! Now available in the Apple store and on the Google Play Store.
The article link for today can be found here, though it is behind a paywall.
(*Research calls this victimization, but this word bothers me as a formerly bullied kid - it feels to me that it takes away additional power from those that are bullied. Being bullied is something that happens to us, not an inherent characteristic of us. Therefore I am not using this word here even though it is what is used in the literature. Rant over).
1) Hong, Jun Sung, et al. "Correlates of school bullying victimization among Black/White biracial adolescents: Are they similar to their monoracial Black and White peers?." Psychology in the Schools 58.3 (2021): 601-621.
2) Cortes, Khaerannisa I., and Becky Kochenderfer-Ladd. "To tell or not to tell: What influences children’s decisions to report bullying to their teachers?." School psychology quarterly 29.3 (2014): 336.
Photo by Warren Wong on Unsplash