The changing behaviour of mixed ethnicity children

4 April 2016

Some groups of mixed ethnicity children experience an increase in behaviour problems as they are growing up, according to a new study.

Using data from the Millennium Cohort Study, researchers from University College London (UCL) found that at age 3, most mixed ethnicity children had fewer conduct problems than their non-mixed counterparts. But by age 11, the behaviour of mixed Pakistani, mixed Bangladeshi and mixed black Caribbean children had worsened compared to their non-mixed peers.

The conduct of mixed Indian and mixed white children improved compared to their non-mixed peers across early childhood, and there was no difference between the behaviour of mixed black African children and their non-mixed peers.

Dr Afshin Zilanawala, from UCL, said: “Previous research has suggested that mixed ethnicity children are more likely to experience emotional, psychological and behavioural problems than their non-mixed counterparts. This increased risk is considered to be a consequence of struggles with identity formation.

“The behaviour problems of some groups of mixed 11-year-old children in our study could reflect children’s struggles to reconcile their families’ heritage and culture and their personal identity.”

The researchers analysed data from more than 16,000 children born across the UK during 2000-01. The children’s parents, primarily their mothers, were asked questions about peer problems, challenging behaviour, hyperactivity and emotional problems when their children were 3, 5, 7 and 11 years old.

Ethnicity was categorised as mixed if the parent chose a mixed category for the child, or if the ethnic categories for the child’s parents were different. Where a mixed child had two minority ethnicity parents, the child was assigned to the mother’s ethnicity.

The study’s authors accounted for differences in socio-economic status between children, but this adjustment did not alter their results.

Dr Zilanawala argues that investigating children’s problem behaviours during early childhood is important as these conduct issues have been linked to subsequent academic achievement, earnings and crime.

“As children spend more time at school, they are less influenced by their home environments and have more interactions with peers and friends, all of which could be playing a role in the behavioural difficulties that some mixed ethnicity children are experiencing,” says Dr Zilanawala. “However, as our mixed ethnicity children get older, is there some sort of identity crisis, both social and personal that is triggering a change in behaviour?

“Future studies should examine the influences that family, school and the wider environment have on problem behaviours among mixed ethnicity children,” Dr Zilanawala concludes.

Further information

Mixed ethnicity and behavioural problems in the Millennium Cohort Study by Afshin Zilanawala, Amanda Sacker and Yvonne Kelly was published in Archives of Disease in Childhood in February 2016

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