A new study suggests that fifty percent of 17 year-olds who’ve grown up in lesbian parent families in the U.S. have experienced stigma — but they are coping.
Also a key part of the study reveals that the overall rates of teasing experienced in lesbian-mother families does not significantly differ from those reported in heterosexual families.
The study, published by Children and Youth Services Review, also showed that peer groups were often the source of negative comments, with 30% of reported incidents occurring in elementary school and 39% occurring in high school.
In the study, “Stigmatization associated with growing up in a lesbian-parented family: What do adolescents experience and how do they deal with it?,” 78 teens were asked about whether or not they had been treated unfairly because of having same-sex parents. Adolescents who said they had been treated negatively were then asked to elaborate by describing two or three such experiences, specifying what happened, how they felt, what they said or did, and whom they told about it.
The 78 adolescents were drawn from families that are part of the National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study (NLLFS), the longest-running and largest prospective investigation of lesbian mothers and their children in the United States. Initiated by Nanette Gartrell, MD, in 1986, the NLLFS examines the social, psychological, and emotional development of the children as well as the dynamics of planned lesbian families.
The current study was conducted by Loes van Gelderen, MSc. (University of Amsterdam), Henny Bos, PhD (University of Amsterdam; Williams Visiting International Scholar 2012), Nanette Gartrell, MD (University of Amsterdam; Williams Institute Visiting Distinguished Scholar), Floor B. van Rooij, PhD, (University of Amsterdam, and Jo Hermanns, PhD (University of Amsterdam).
What is perhaps more positive is that the study revealed that, in the face of bullying behavior, nearly two-thirds of teens in the study were able to adopt positive coping skills and stand up for themselves. Most teenagers, for instance, would either comfort themselves and ignore those comments, or they reported confronting those that had made negative comments and were able to clearly state that such behavior was unacceptable. Some also reported that they would seek support from within their family units.
However, there were a handful of teens who decided to adapt their behavior so as to erase the problems they encountered, with one teenager from the study quoted as saying “I soon learned to keep my mouth shut and use the term ‘parents’ instead of ‘moms’.”
“The findings suggest that educational systems could play an important role in preventing stigma incidents by discouraging homophobia in their anti-bullying programs,” lead author Loes van Gelderen, MSc, University of Amsterdam, is quoted as saying.
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