Parents who are intolerant of their lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB) teens may increase the risk that their kids will suffer health problems in young adulthood, such as an increased risk of suicide, depression, drug abuse, and unsafe sex, according to a new report.
Researchers interviewed 53 families with gay teens to identify certain parental behaviors as "accepting" or "rejecting," then surveyed 224 young-adult white and Latino gays and lesbians (ages 21 to 25) to see which of these behaviors they'd experienced during adolescence.
The results? Higher rates of family rejection were strongly associated with poorer health outcomes. Among respondents who had high levels of family rejection:
- more than two-thirds said they had tried to kill themselves (vs. about 20% among those who reported the lowest rates of rejection)
- many reported high rates of depression, illegal drug use, and substance abuse
- 46% said they'd had unprotected sex with a casual partner in the past 6 months (nearly twice the rate of those in the least-rejected group)
The highest levels of family rejection and negative mental health and HIV risk outcomes were seen among Latino gay and bisexual men.
The study's results suggest that when parents are more accepting of a LGB child, it can greatly improve the teen's mental health, especially since many young people now come out at earlier ages.
What This Means to You
Most medical professionals believe that sexual orientation involves a complex mixture of biology, psychology, and environmental factors, and that in most cases sexual orientation is not something a person chooses.
It's likely that all the factors that result in someone's sexual orientation are not yet completely understood. What is certain is that LGB teens want to feel understood, respected, and accepted — particularly by family members. That's not easy in all families.
Almost all teens have questions about reaching physical maturity and about sexual health. Because these can be difficult topics, it's especially important for LGB teens to find someone knowledgeable who they can trust and confide in.
In many communities, youth support groups can provide opportunities for gay teens to talk to others who understand. And psychologists, psychiatrists, family doctors, and trained counselors can help them cope — confidentially and privately — with the difficult feelings that can accompany their sexual orientation.
Parents can help by becoming more knowledgeable about issues of sexuality — and learning to be more comfortable discussing them. Some gay and lesbian support groups also offer information, advice, and help for family members. Parents also can help their teen gain access to a doctor or health professional who will provide reliable health advice.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: January 2009
Source: "Family Rejection as a Predictor of Negative Health Outcomes in White and Latino Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Young Adults," Pediatrics, Jan. 2009.