How to Stop Teens From Fearing Immigrants

Reducing bias in teens needs a multi-pronged approach.
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By Jill Suttie

Immigration is on the rise around the world, according to UN reports. War, starvation, economic hardship, or persecution have forced many people to seek new homes in more peaceful countries, like the United States or the nations of the European Union.

But not all countries have welcomed immigrants and refugees. Nationalist movements appear to be on the rise, including in the United States, where the new president recently signed executive orders banning immigrants from certain countries. Last week, the president suggested that immigration is driving a crime wave in European countries like Sweden.

That’s a claim refuted by many Swedes, including psychologist Marta Miklikowska of Orebro University. “I can point out research that shows socio-economical factors account for criminal behavior to a larger extent than an immigrant background,” she says. “And research shows crime levels aren’t rising in the long-term perspective.”

Despite such findings, prejudice and xenophobia persist. Miklikowska studies how negative biases develop and what can be done to combat them. While other researchers have found that parents and peers can influence the development of biases in children, her newest study focuses on adolescents and the role that empathy and cross-group friendships play in bias formation.

She found many factors influence teen bias against immigrants. The biggest one may be their parents, followed by peers. Fortunately, there’s a solution to being surrounded by prejudice.