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The Kids are Alright: What research tells us about children of LGB parents

Families, LGBT Youth, Lis Maurer October 19th, 2010
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~ By Lis Maurer

Like this summer’s movie of a similar title, research suggests kids of lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) parents turn out as typical as children of heterosexual parents. (Few studies have been done to date regarding the experience of children of transgender parents.)

Children of LGB families have the unique distinction of having been studied rather extensively over the last few decades. Interest in this population is so high that the national organization Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere (COLAGE), an organization for and by children of LGBT parents, provides the fact sheet Tips for COLAGErs deciding whether or not to volunteer for research studies to assist kids of LGBT parents in navigating this intense interest by researchers.

One question that occupies a disproportionate amount of space among researchers and the general public alike is whether the children of LGB parents grow up to be LGB themselves. It has been viewed as a sort of “litmus test” regarding the suitability and worthiness of LGB parents. Research has shown children of lesbian and gay parents to be as likely – or unlikely – as those of heterosexual parents to be gay or lesbian themselves (Patterson, 2006; Stacy & Biblarz, 2001; Terlingator & Patterson, 2008).

Few other differences have been found (Stacy & Biblaz, 2001), and each type of family, whether with parents of different or the same gender, has specific advantages and disadvantages for children and parents (Biblarz & Stacey, 2010). In 2004, the American Psychological Association stated “Research has shown that the adjustment, development, and psychological well-being of children is unrelated to parental sexual orientation and that children of lesbian and gay parents are as likely as those of heterosexual parents to flourish.”

As the literature expands, research into other issues impacting children from LGB families has also grown. For example, the first study to examine delinquent behavior, substance abuse, and victimization in adolescents with same sex compared to different sex parents found no differences – instead, risk behaviors were associated with the quality of relationship with the parents, not their family structure (Wainwright & Patterson, 2006). Likewise, another study found adolescents whose parents described closer relationships with them reported higher quality peer relations and more friends in school (Wainwright & Patterson, 2008).

The body of research showed few significant differences between the children of heterosexual and LGB parents, until newly released data spanning twenty years tracking children from birth through adolescence showed an unexpected difference – children of lesbian mothers had fewer behavior problems than their peers. In this study (Gartrell & Bos, 2010), the largest longitudinal study of same-sex–parented families, children were rated higher in social, academic, and overall competence and significantly lower in social problems, rule-breaking, and problem behavior than their peers from non-lesbian families.

Image Copyright: Eliza SnowFrom the mid 1980’s to early 1990’s, prospective lesbian mothers volunteered for this study, which followed the families from conception until the children reached adulthood. Data collected includes interviews, questionnaires, and Child Behavior Checklists completed by mothers and by the children at 10 and 17 years old. The study is ongoing, and currently has a 93% retention rate.

The authors, Gartrell and Bos, suggest that the positive findings may be explained in part by mothers’ “commitment even before their offspring were born to be fully engaged in the process of parenting.” (p.6). Lower levels of problem behavior among the teens, say the authors, may be due to differences in styles of discipline used in lesbian mother households and to positive and satisfying relationships between parents and children.

What implications does this newest study have? Since such data is frequently utilized in a variety of settings, from child custody hearings to law and public policymaking, this data adds a new, perhaps even more interesting positive twist to the existing literature. And, because the study indicates the children of lesbian mothers are well-adjusted and on some measures outscore their peers, it may also serve to increase in the dynamics of lesbian parents and their children which can be used to strengthen other parent-child relationships.

Recommended Reading
Read the article US National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study: Psychological Adjustment of 17-Year-Old Adolescents, Pediatrics, Jun 7, 2010 by Nanette Gartrell and Henny Bos.

Summary of existing research on children of LGBT parents, compiled by COLAGE.

Books about the experience of growing up with LGBT parents:
Families Like Mine: Children of Gay Parents Tell it Like it Is, by Abigail Garner

Dress Codes: Of Three Girlhoods – My Mother’s, My Father’s, and Mine, by Noelle Howey

How it Feels to Have a Gay or Lesbian Parent: A Book by Kids For Kids of All Ages, by Judith Snow

Love Makes A Family: Portraits of LGBT Parents and their Families, by Peggy Gillespie

Out of the Ordinary: Essays on Growing Up with Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Parents, Noelle Howey and Ellen Samuels, editors

References
American Psychological Association (2004). Policy Statement on Sexual Orientation, Parents, and Children. Available at http://www.apa.org/about/governance/council/policy/parenting.aspx

Biblarz, T., & Stacey, J. (2010). How does the gender of parents matter? Journal of Marriage and Family, 72, 3–22.

Patterson, C.J. (2006). Children of lesbian and gay parents. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 15, 241–244.

Stacey, J., & Biblarz, T. (2001). (How) Does The Sexual Orientation Of Parents Matter? American Sociological Review, 66(2), 159–183.

Telingator, C., & Patterson, C.J. (2008). Children and adolescents of lesbian and gay parents. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 47(12), 1364–1368.

Wainright, J.L., & Patterson, C.J. (2006). Delinquency, victimization, and substance use among adolescents with female same-sex parents. Journal of Family Psychology, 20, 526–530.

Wainwright, J.L., & Patterson, C.J. (2008). Peer Relations Among Adolescents With Female Same-Sex Parents. Developmental Psychology, 44(1), 117–126.

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Image Copyright: Eliza Snow/iStockphoto.com

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