Background Studies from the US have suggested that children who experience racial discrimination have higher rates of depression, anxiety, behavioural disorders, and lower self-esteem. Children are generally more vulnerable to such problems at the transition from one school to another. Our aim was to investigate the associations between race, bullying, mood, behavioural difficulties and self-esteem during the transition to secondary school in a population-based cohort of English children.
Methods Children from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) were asked to define themselves by skin colour when aged 12 years (n=7017). Analyses were performed using logistic regression, adjusting for gender and maternal education. The primary outcome measures were bullying and racial discrimination at 12–12.5 years. Secondary outcomes were bullying at 8 years, depressive symptoms at 11.6 years, behavioural difficulties at 11.6 years, friendships at 12 years, mood and self-esteem at 13.8 years.
Results 94.2% of children defined themselves as white (n=6607), 3.6% as mixed race (n=255) and 2.2% (n=155) identified with a specific ethnic minority group. At primary school (8–11 yrs), there were no differences between these groups in reported bullying, types of friends or prevalence of behavioural problems or depression. At secondary school (12.5 years), the reported prevalence of racially motivated violence was 10–13%, and for name-calling was 31–33%. Compared to white children, ethnic minority but not mixed race children were more likely to experience overt bullying (OR 2.98; 95% confidence interval 1.38 to 6.42). Mixed race children were more likely to retain friends of different races after the transition to secondary school (OR 1.89; 1.32 to 2.71). Ethnic minority children were more likely to feel ‘different from others’ at 13.8 years (OR 1.63; 1.01 to 2.36).
Conclusion Although children of different colour had similar experiences at primary school, ethnic minority children were more likely than white children to experience bullying and discrimination at the transition to secondary school. Racial discrimination affected up to one third of ethnic minority and mixed race children at 12 years of age, and these children felt more socially isolated and were less happy than their white peers at 13 years. Strategies for prevention of bullying should be targeted at this vulnerable group of children, particularly during this high-risk period of transition.
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