Study Shows Adolescents Benefit from Cross-Ethnic Friendships

Middle school environments have become more diverse in recent years, but many schools are still made up primarily of students from one majority race. Students who are in racially diverse schools may be subject to more challenges because of discrimination and prejudice. But some students are able to reap significant benefits from these multicultural schools. Anke Munniksma of the University of Groningen in the Netherlands recently conducted a study to determine how ethnically diverse friendships impacted students’ feelings of safety in middle school. Munniksma wanted to find out if students who had friendships that crossed racial lines would feel less threatened than those who maintained friendships only within their ethnic circles.

Using a sample of 227 white and Latino students, Munniksma assessed the number of within-group and out-of-group friendships that the students had at the beginning of their first or second years in middle school. She then examined how these friendships affected feelings of vulnerability, discrimination, and safety in the spring of that same school year. Munniksma found that children who had racially diverse friendships felt safer in their school than students who had only within-group friendships. However, the results revealed that the Latino students who had high numbers of cross-ethnic friendships felt more secure and less at risk for bullying and aggression than the white students with similar numbers of cross-ethnic friendships.

Munniksma believes that minority students, Latino students in this study, may potentially feel more vulnerable than majority (white) students regardless of friendship constructs. Being able to forge relationships with students of the perceived majority race may decrease feelings of victimization and threat for Latino students, but not for white students. Interestingly, the students with more cross-ethnic relationships did not experience increases in feelings of safety from fall to spring. This finding suggests that students may be subjected to more bullying and aggression, or expect to be, regardless of their ethnicity or peer support system. This result should be examined further in a larger sample that includes students from other ethnic backgrounds.

Overall, the research presented here demonstrates the how reaching across cultural lines can help students adjust in early adolescence. Munniksma added, “Thus, by ‘taking advantage’ of the ethnic diversity by forming (and maintaining) cross-ethnic friendships, at least some students can have a more positive school experience in large urban middle schools.”

Munniksma, Anke, and Jaana Juvonen. Cross-ethnic friendships and sense of social-emotional safety in a multiethnic middle school: An exploratory study. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly 58.4 (2012): 489-506. Print.

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  • Rene


    November 21st, 2012 at 11:24 PM

    It’s always great to have friends from diverse backgrounds and cultures. There’s just so much to learn! I picked up a lot on cultures, languages and other things when’s urging school mainly due to my being friends with people from different backgrounds. You stick with people just like you there’s nothing new to learn I would say!

  • juan


    November 22nd, 2012 at 2:49 PM

    I agree with rene here..its not just the secure feeling (who is secure anywhere anyway!) it is so much about knowing about other people and you just grow as a person when your friends come from different stay with one group and make friends only from one race or locality or whatever you live in a shell..if you want to grow,then you have to meet and interact with different people.

  • TIM


    November 22nd, 2012 at 6:15 PM

    Just compare the people skills and the general behavior of those that have mingled with and had friends from people of different races to those that have grown up in a neighborhood and school where most kids were from a similar background and you can easily see the difference. the former group would most probably have better skills and understanding of the other groups as well as low probability of racist behavior. it is not a theory but a fact, a fact that we cannot ignore.

    there are numerous benefits of having grown up with people of different races and and I am someone who definitely realizes that because I have experienced it first hand.

  • Mike


    November 23rd, 2012 at 8:26 AM

    I think that in theory this is a good idea, but I also think that it has to be done from a very young age.
    I don’t think that throwing these kids into ethnically diverse schools say in high school or middle school is a good idea unless they have been a part of a school environment like this from a young age.
    This is something that has to be taught at home and then reinforced in the school setting for all of the children to benefit. If it is not then I think that this is a time when they begin looking too much at their differences over focusing on the things that they actually have in common.

  • bruce owens

    bruce owens

    November 24th, 2012 at 9:21 AM

    Exploring friendships that are a little outside of your normal comfort zone can help you survive in society, in life.

  • Glynnis


    November 25th, 2012 at 5:17 AM

    I have witnessed my own children be comfortable with diverse friendships than I ever would have been at their age, and I have to admit that sometimes it takes me abaack at just how comfortable the groups are today interacting with one another in a way that I was never given the chance to when growing up. It has been a learning adjustment for me too as this is something new to me, and I know that it has to be done with grace and as a way for all of us to learn a little more about one another in a safe way. I am glad that the benefits are there, but I can’t say that it has always been easy.

  • hamilton


    November 25th, 2012 at 8:48 PM

    growing up years are when your affiliations are made and perceptions to have friends of different ethnicity is definitely a positive learn more and more and also do not form uneducated perceptions about people of a different ethnicity.I think that is enough of a factor in our country where people from all over the world come in and racism and prejudice abound.

  • Taylor rock

    Taylor rock

    November 26th, 2012 at 4:22 AM

    are the benefits the same no matter the race?

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