By Serena Gordon
MONDAY, June 7 (HealthDay News) -- When compared to teens of the same age, adolescents raised by lesbian parents are doing just fine socially, psychologically and academically, new research finds.
Not only that, they have fewer social problems, and less aggressive and rule-breaking behaviors than other teens.
The nearly 20-year study has followed 78 teens since their lesbian mothers were planning their pregnancies, and concluded that these children "demonstrate healthy psychological adjustment." These findings stand in contrast to what some vocal opponents of gay or lesbian parents might have expected.
"One of the things that opponents of the equalities of gays and lesbians -- in marriage, parenting, adoption and foster care -- often bring up is the so-called gold standard of parenting, which defined by them is the traditional family where children are conceived in traditional ways and not through insemination or surrogates. But, when we compared the adolescents in our study to the so-called gold standard, we found the teens with lesbian mothers were actually doing better," said study author Dr. Nanette Gartrell, the Williams Distinguished Scholar at the University of California Los Angeles School of Law.
As to why these teens are doing better, Gartrell said, "Moms in the lesbian family are very committed, very involved parents."
Gartrell said she expects that these findings would also translate to the children of gay male parents as well. "Gay male parents are another group of very committed parents, and really, [among gay male couples] only economically privileged gay men have access to the opportunity to become parents right now," she said.
Family therapist Andrew Roffman, at the New York University Langone Medical Center, wasn't surprised by the findings and agreed that such results would likely be similar for gay male parents.
"Good parenting makes for healthier children, regardless of your sexual orientation. Whether you're gay, straight or lesbian, good parenting is good parenting," said Roffman.
Results of Gartrell's study will be published in the July issue of Pediatrics.
Between 1986 and 1992, Gartrell and her colleague, Henry Bos, recruited 154 prospective lesbian mothers as they were considering artificial insemination, or once they were already pregnant.
As the children have grown, the researchers have been periodically checking in on them, and the latest follow-up included questionnaires completed by 78 children when they were 10 and again when they were 17. The study also included an interview with one of each child's mothers to assess the child's psychological well-being.
The results were then compared to a group of age-matched children from traditional families.
Compared to the traditionally reared teens, adolescents with lesbian parents rated significantly higher in social, academic and total competence, according to the study. The teens with lesbian parents also rated significantly lower when it came to social problems, rule-breaking and aggressive behavior than teens raised in more traditional families.
Even in homes where the lesbian parents had split up, the researchers found that those teens still fared better than teens from more traditional families.
Just over four in 10 of the teens raised by lesbian parents reported that they had been stigmatized at some point because of their parents' sexual orientation, said Gartrell. But, when the researchers compared those who had been stigmatized to those who hadn't, they found no significant psychological differences.
"These young people seem to have done well; they have some resilience," she said.
Roffman said there's likely a resilience factor at play. And, he said, it may come from the lesbian parents thinking ahead of time about what the child's experiences might be and talking with the children before anything happens.
"Probably the most effective thing to do is to prepare kids ahead of time. Let them know that there is still a cultural stigma and that they may encounter children and adults who are insensitive. Having these kinds of talks is relationship-building for both parents and children," said Roffman
"The outcomes here were very clear. These are families in which the mothers were very committed, involved and loving. The 17-year-old adolescents are healthy, happy and high-functioning," said Gartrell.
To read more about children of gay or lesbian parents, visit the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
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