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Psychological and social adjustment in teens with same-sex parents

Society for Research in Child Development

Current debates about marriage of same-sex couples often lead to discussions regarding the health and well-being of any children involved in such relationships. Although considerable research on young children of same-sex couples finds they fare as well as their peers with opposite-sex parents, there have been fewer studies of adolescents.

We examined romantic relationships, school adjustment, and psychological well-being among 44 adolescents whose mothers had same-sex romantic partners, comparing them to 44 adolescents whose mothers had opposite-sex partners.

Our study also examined the association between the quality of parental/adolescent relationships and school achievement and psychological well-being.

We drew information for our study from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, in which researchers conducted interviews with and collected information from thousands of American adolescents and their parents. The two groups we studied had several similar characteristics, including age, gender, ethnicity, level of parental education, and family income. There was an equal number of girls and boys, and an overall average age of 15.

We found that adolescents whose parents had same-sex romantic partners were developing in positive ways. We found no significant differences in their school achievement or psychological well-being when compared to their peers with male/female parents.

Adolescents whose mothers had same-sex partners were neither more nor less likely than those whose mothers had opposite-sex partners to report they were involved in a romantic relationship during the past year, or that they had ever engaged in sexual intercourse. Adolescents in both groups were generally well adjusted, with relatively high levels of self-esteem, relatively low levels of anxiety, few symptoms of depression, and good school achievement.

Although adolescent adjustment was not related to the gender of maternal romantic partners, it was related to the qualities of parent-adolescent relationships. Adolescents whose mothers said that they had warmer, closer relationships with their children were better adjusted overall.

When it comes to adolescent adjustment, our results suggest that the qualities of parent-adolescent relationships are more important than the gender of a parent's romantic partner.

The fact that results for an ethnically- and geographically-diverse sample of adolescents are similar to those from earlier research based on less diverse samples adds to confidence in our conclusion that adolescents with same-sex parents are developing well.

This study is the first to collect multiple measures of adjustment from adolescent offspring of same-sex parents drawn from a large, diverse national sample. These results should help inform the debate about the development of children and adolescents with same-sex parents.


Summarized from Child Development, Vol. 75, Issue 6, Summary of Psychosocial Adjustment, School Outcomes, and Romantic Attractions of Adolescents With Same-Sex Parents by J.L. Wainright, S.T. Russell, and C.J. Patterson (University of Virginia). Copyright 2004 The Society for Research in Child Development, Inc. All rights reserved.

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