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Teenagers in lesbian families: healthy and happy

09 June 2010 Universiteit van Amsterdam (UVA)

Teenage children of lesbian parents in the United States exhibit healthy psychological development and have fewer behavioural problems than peers who grow up in heterosexual families. These are the findings of research published in Pediatrics, the scientific journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, on Monday, 7 June. The research was conducted by Dr Nanette Gartrell from the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law and Dr Henny Bos from the department of Child Development and Education at the University of Amsterdam (UvA).

The research is part of the U.S. National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study (NLLFS), the longest-running study of lesbian families in the United States. The families have been observed since the time the children were conceived (all by donor insemination). The average age of the children is seventeen years old. The mothers of 78 boys and girls in total responded to questions in interviews and completed questionnaires. The questions concerned the social skills, school performance and behaviour of their children. The young people also completed questionnaires. In comparison with a control group - comprising peers with heterosexual parents – the children in the lesbian families scored significantly higher in their social, academic and general skills, and significantly lower with regard to aggressive behavior, violating rules and expressing problem behaviour.

The findings show that teenagers who grow up in planned lesbian families enjoy a healthy psychological development. This applies to all children in the NLLFS study, irrespective of whether their donor was known or whether they were faced with homophobic stigma.

Involvement and parenting style

The results of the study by Bos and Gartrell may be partly explained by the active involvement of lesbian mothers - even before the birth of their children - in the process of parenting and child rearing. The fact that these teenagers exhibit less problem behaviour could be explained by the parenting style that lesbian parents adopt. For example, they set verbal boundaries for their children more often and used physical punishment less often than heterosexual parents in the control group.

The Dutch situation

Henny Bos is conducting a longitudinal study among lesbian families in the Netherlands modeled on the NLLFS study. When these children reached between 4 and 8 years of age, Bos found no differences in their psychosocial well-being compared to children who grew up in a traditional family with a father and a mother. This was also confirmed when the same children reached between 8 and 12 years of age. In September 2010, Bos will begin the third phase of testing. The children in this group of lesbian families will then be fifteen years old.

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