Even for young children, racial bias can become entrenched, leading to exclusion, conflict and hard-to-change attitudes as adults. But schools can help kids combat prejudice from an early age, writes Melanie Killen, a professor in the Department of Human Development and Quantitative Methodology.

In an op/ed published in The Conversation yesterday, she explains how teachers can help their students overcome bigotry by encouraging friendships with people who don’t look like them:

Children often don’t get the consequences of their actions or what makes someone else feel bad. The good news is that the biases of children are not as hard to overcome as is the case with adults. Scholars like me call friendships with other kids from different cultural, ethnic and racial backgrounds “cross-group friendships.” These bonds play a positive role to help children to reject or at least question stereotypes, from the internet, movies, politicians, the media, family or peers (that) may not be true.

My research team has found that children who have friends from different backgrounds are able to reject stereotypes.

When children observe others who are friends from different groups then they are more likely to think “If someone from my group likes them then they must be OK.” Discovering shared interests, hobbies, and values with new kids helps to diminish attitudes that might be based on stereotypes.

Read the rest in The Conversation.