LOS ANGELES – Fifty percent of 17-year-olds who grew up in lesbian-headed families in the United States have experienced stigmatization, but were able to cope, according to a new study published in Children and Youth Services Review.
A key part of the study reveals that the overall rates of teasing experienced in lesbian-mother families do not differ from those reported in heterosexual families, which is consistent with previous research in this area.
The results further revealed that teens’ peers were most often the source of negative comments, teasing or ridicule. Thirty percent of reported incidents occurred in elementary school and 39% occurred in high school.
“The findings suggest that educational systems could play an important role in preventing stigma incidents by discouraging homophobia in their anti-bullying programs,” said lead author Loes van Gelderen, MSc, University of Amsterdam.
In addition, nearly two-thirds of the studied teens used effective, adaptive coping skills. Most teenagers tried to comfort themselves while others confronted the perpetrators to make it clear that teasing and ridicule were unacceptable. Some choose to be with friends who were supportive of their family situation, or looked for social support by telling others what happened. Other teens, however, used coping skills that were less effective, such as trying to avoid confrontation. For example, one teenager said, “I soon learned to keep my mouth shut and use the term ‘parents’ instead of ‘moms’.”
In the study, “Stigmatization associated with growing up in a lesbian-parented family: What do adolescents experience and how do they deal with it?” adolescents were queried about whether or not they had been treated unfairly because of having a lesbian mom. Adolescents who said they had were then asked to describe 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 participating in 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).
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