Just how young are children when they develop concepts about race?

A controversial cover story in Newsweek magazine, based in part on studies done at University of Texas Austin suggests children notice the differences between us earlier than you might think.

Babies as young as six months notice our color differences; staring longer at photos of people who are different. A study of 5-year olds asked them to sort children’s photos into two stacks. Sixteen percent did it by gender 68 percent by race.

The studies on children and race are contradictory. Putting kids in a diverse mix early can be positive, but it can also accentuate to them the differences between them. Likewise, parents talking to their young children about race can be positive, but can also plant the concept of racial differences in a child’s mind where none existed.

It used to be thought children only noticed race when society pointed it out. Now scientists are not so sure.

“I think it is a quandary because if you start pointing it out to children at an early age, even if you have the best interests, you’re still pointing out differences,” said Dawn Johnson a mother of a 2-year-old.

Another dilemma for parents: they can’t always control the influences on their child.

“If we didn’t put the emphasis on race maybe it wouldn’t be such a big deal. If children develop racial attitudes at an early age, why do you think that is? I think it can be outside influences, family, friends,” said another mother.

Studies show children naturally gravitate to people like themselves. Only eight percent of white high school students have a best friend of another race. Blacks are more comfortable talking about the subject.

Seventy-five percent of black parents bring up race with their kindergartners. Only twenty-five percent of whites do the same – and kids remember those talks.

“Basically they were just saying there’s all different colors in the world but either way you go you should treat people the same no matter what,” said Terry Jefferson a high school student.

“If you have close contact with your grandparents your grandparents are always going to be talking about the stories, you would develop some kind of separation, but in ways that hurts us,” added student Clyde Burgess.