Teens with Lesbian Moms: Stigmatized But Coping

Photo credit: JMR Photography

Half of Teens with Lesbian Mothers Face Stigmatization, Most Often During School,” read the title of a press release from UCLA’s Williams Institute March 8. Yikes. That’s important news, given the need to raise public awareness of harassment and bullying in schools—but it’s also a scary message for lesbian moms. It’s almost enough to make prospective parents return their turkey basters.

Note the subtitle, however: “Nearly two-thirds have effective coping skills.” Yes, our children may face stigmatization and bullying, but that doesn’t mean we should view them as helpless in the face of it.

The findings come from the long-running National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study (NLLFS). The researchers also found that the teens used “adaptive” strategies (e.g., “being confrontational, seeking social support, and expressing optimism”) more frequently than “maladaptive” ones (“those that are avoidant, palliative (e.g., denial), or depressive”) to cope with the negative experiences of stigmatization. That’s even better news.

Interestingly, however, girls and boys in the study tended to use different strategies. Of the teens who used coping strategies, more girls used adaptive strategies, and more boys used maladaptive strategies (or a combination of the two). I think that begs further research into how parents and teachers can help teens of any gender navigate these waters.

Lead author Loes van Gelderen of the University of Amsterdam also noted the broader point,“The findings suggest that educational systems could play an important role in preventing stigma incidents by discouraging homophobia in their anti-bullying programs.” Hear, hear.

Previous recent studies based on the NLLFS have found that teens of lesbians are just as happy as teens of straight parents, and the psychological well-being of children of lesbian mothers between ages 10 and 17 is the same regardless of whether they were conceived through known or unknown donors. (The NLLFS only includes families created through assisted insemination.)