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Effects of Same-Sex Parents on Adolescent’s Peer Relations

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Families differ in composition, which has led to changing the definition of family. An example of a family which has come under interest and scrutiny is the family of same-sex partners and the situation when it involves a child, especially adolescents. Parents’ sexual orientation has an influence on a child’s peer relations which needs to be investigated. This is because the nature and kind of attachment of a parent-child relationship can have huge impacts on the emotional and social growth and development of the child.

Gay and lesbian families have been on the rise and represent a fairly large amount of the American population, which presents an extensive diversity of today’s family norms. In trying to understand families, same-sex families should not be left out, since they are intricately linked to the society and will help in stopping the negative perception of lesbians and gays. This is connected to the increasing desire of same-sex couples to be parents, hence helping to a smooth transition to such families.  This has an effect on the kind of peer relations that children of such parents are likely to have.

Gay and lesbian parenting has been a challenge to psychological theories of child development. There have been questions of whether it is really important for parents of both sexes to be there for normal development. This is recommended by psychoanalytic and social learning, which stress on the need of both a dad and a mother for normal social development.

When children are growing they exhibit changes and growth showed by independence, self-discovery and coming up with new close relationships. Adolescence is a crucial stage where research has shown that adolescents who face social dislike tend to have negative trends in their life development. Such individuals showed increased chances of externalizing their problems (Smetana, Campione –Barr, & Metzger, 2006). Adolescence is an age characterized by being self-aware. While some experience doubt of themselves, it means that peer pressure and social acceptability will greatly affect their psychosocial development. There exist disparities in the strength and quality of peer relations for adolescents of same-sex parents.

Statement of the Problem

There have been reported cases of the increased numbers of same-sex couples rearing up children, especially adolescents. The vital and critical adolescent stage in terms of social and emotional well-being and development is largely determined by the kind and quality of peer relationships a teenager has. Same-sex parents have an associated stigma in the society. Although same-sex partners have started gaining more social acceptance, the stigma can affect the psychosocial life development of the children and subsequently peer relationships.

According to Jack (2000), peer relationships paired with a cultivating home environment play an important part in the cognitive development of a child’s cumulative image of self. It is, therefore, important to look at the peer relationships of children living with same-sex parents, which are not a well-founded family structure in American society. This will understand if there is a nurturing and cultivating home, discover what are the challenges faced, and suggest ways of overcoming them. This forms the basis of this study.

The purpose of this study is to look at the different same-sex parenting styles and their influence on peer relations of the couple’s children. By gauging the quality of peer relationships on how socially accepted are same-sex parented children and the influences of gender differences, the findings will help to come up with a clearer picture of the nature of peer relationships such teenagers have. The results could also help providing the information and literature on same-sex families and adolescent relationships, which could trigger development of social policy related to this family type.

Literature Review

Gay and lesbian parents with custodial children has been an emergent research area. According to Bovey & Strain (2006), positive development of social acceptance, friendships and positive peer relationships play an integral part in the daily life of children and overall development of adolescents. This entails getting a peer approval, which enhances children’s welfare, and often a positive adolescent peer relationship is more important than that with parents (von Salisch, 2001).  Therefore, when the peers stigmatize a child based on parents’ sexual orientation, it is more dangerous, even if the parents are supportive and caring.

Adolescence is a critical time which characterizes a period of high emotional thinking and reasoning, while person is not yet an adult (Smetana, Campione-Barr, & Metzger, 2006). As such, adolescehnts are on both ends of dependency on parents and the society. Adolescence is a crucial stage of psychological transformations and heightened levels of self-sufficiency (McGue et al, 2005). Also, self-competence and worth also come out at this time (Laursen et al, 2006). Emotional growth takes place in social settings where expressions are formed in one-on-one interactions. This involves teenagers and their parents and the resultant dual role, both as a social sign and a pointer of an emotional state (von Salisch, 2011). 

Empathy is a crucial factor here. This is an emotional and mental characterization of situations of other people and oneself. Being empathetic helps forging pro-social behavior, enhances ease of making friends and boosts one’s self-esteem. Empathy is a good cover for adolescents of same-sex who have suffered social disapproval and mockery. When adolescents have empathy and practice it, it makes them being able to take on the psychosocial viewpoint of peers through cognitive arousal (Heller et al, 2006). This makes them more competent socially and improves their peer relationships. Empathy varies with age and is more in female adolescents than male ones.   

Theoretical Framework

The main theme in this study is social stigmatization. There are various social misconceptions, perceptions, moral apprehensions and even political views, which affect the well-being of homosexual parents. Humans are subjective beings who look for meaning and identities in the other individuals they interact with. This is symbolic interactionism (Dilworth et al, 2005; Henderson, 2005).

The meaning of someone or something is synthesized through interpretation of people and things he/she come across. This means that person’s experiences will determine how he or she perceives adolescents of homosexual parents. Ingoldsby et al (2004), put it that when one fully develops his/her sense of self (self-concept), it acts as a motivator into the future. This has been associated with adolescents’ ability to form close relationships. Consequently, the kind of parent-child relationship has a big role in the adolescents’ ability to develop peer relations. Furthermore, same-sex families have managed to inhibit social fears and stressors and hence their adolescent children use their self-concept to shield themselves from stigmas.

 Peer relationships are characterize with three interconnected components. They include: (1) the persons involved often influence one another, (2) the extent of influence with each happening gets stronger, and (3) the influence is characterized by numerous kinds of activities by each individual (Repinski and Zook, 2005). Repinski and Zook (2005) further operationalized such interconnectedness to signify close relationships as cohesion, understanding, support and self-disclosure. These factors are important in a child’s psycho-social development and point out the worth of valuable peer relationships.

The big question here is whether it matters if one has homosexual parents? First, lack of a pathology of an impairment reflection in functioning led to removal of homosexuality from American Psychological Association’s records of psychological disorders. Currently it is estimated that there are at least one million children being brought up by same-sex couples (Rosato, 2006). It cannot be denied that there exist no differences between children of homosexual and heterosexual parents. However, research has shown few associations between a child’s welfare and parental sexual orientation.

According to Wainright et al (2004), some of these differences are increased stress, diminished self-esteem and high parent-child contact for children of same-sex parents. However, lesbian parents are depicted as responsive to their kids, warm, nurturing and child-oriented (Stevens & Golding, 2003). On the other hand, gay fathers in contrast to heterosexual fathers are more inclined to parental nurturance than economic well-being. Gay fathers also work harder to establish positive attachments and stable home livelihoods (McCann & Delmonte, 2005).

Various studies show that school performance of adolescents of opposite sex parents is equal comparing with those of same sex parents adolescents (Rodgers & Rose, 2001). Children of homosexual parents often experience minor stress in regard to socio-cultural issues such as hurtful teasing. This is resultant of experiencing individual and negative stigmatization by the society around them about same-sex sexual attractions (D’Augelli, 2006). Children brought up by homosexuals have an upper hand when it come to overcoming the fears of becoming homosexuals, being sexually harassed and being hurt by the negative stigmatization of living with homosexuals. Fears of sexual assault and sexuality perplexity are ruled out though societal negativity, and its implications still persist (Cahill, 2005).

A study on children of separated homosexuals found out that it was not as widespread as projected. (Tasker, 2005).  This positivity was attributed to self-agency. For instance, when dealing with prejudice, it depends on how they identified and perceived their parents as being different. The study participants also teased about their same-sex parents and had no difficulties in their peer relationships with children of opposite-sex parents (Tasker, 2005).

In the study done by Tasker (2005), it was found out that some children engage in preventive tactics in a bid to keep away from social homophobia. It came to light that adolescent children of lesbian parents kept their parents lesbian identity a secret. This evoked negative feelings of shame. Adolescent children of gay parents engaged in boundary control. This means they exercised caution in scenarios which disclose their fathers’ sexual orientation and likely to provoke social criticism.  Their fathers, on the other hand, avoided displaying of gay signs, such as jewelry, and showing a male partner as being a friend (Tasker, 2005).

As implied in the above study, same-sex parents adolescents may not experience anything much out of the normal in peer relationships, but the family expects and comes up with measures and tactics to counter and prevent social stigmas. This shows that the expected negative social stigmatizations were not experienced by the adolescents and were just likelihoods. The positive mechanisms taken by the families show the culture of today’s world and portray how important peer relationships in a family employ such actions to be at ease.

In research, there has been a challenge in availing literature of same-sex parents. This is due to inconsistence of participants, especially gay fathers. As a result, this leads to most studies focusing more on lesbian parents. It has been found out that research involving children of homosexual fathers can give varied results, since parenting styles have been shown to vary between two male parents from parenting styles of two females (Patterson, 2000).

There has been studies conducted, which showed that adolescents with homosexual parents displayed positive peer relationships, as well as social development, and expressed feelings of popularity with their colleagues in their neighborhoods and at school. When twelve children reared by homosexuality were questioned about harassment due to their parents’ sexual orientation, only one child responded with being harassed.

However, some courts will deny homosexual couples custody using the presumptions that children might in time face prejudice and stigmatization. As shown above, the real happenings do not occur as frequent as publicized. Denying homosexual couples custody on grounds of a child’s likelihood of being stigmatized is showing loyalty to societal prejudices, which is not right in line with equality. Here, the courts reinforce the social stigma in an indirect way, which contradicts with what they find so irritating.

Studies up to now have found no empirical data that differentiates between children of lesbian and gay parents. This is in terms of convectional gender growth, social and emotional growth, and even relationship with peers in regard to their parents’ sexual orientation (Patterson, 2000, 2006). However, some studies have suggested that some mechanisms and processes within the family can affect child’s development (Golombok et al, 2003). It is important to exercise caution when generalizing research findings, especially when using research done with young children and adolescents. This is because they have some issues such as personal identity, peers and dating, which are very important during adolescence.

Wainright, Rusell, and Patterson (2004) did a study and reported on the different relationships within homosexual and heterosexual families. They used data from a wide database nationally where they studied 44 teenagers’ adjustments aged 12-18 years with same-sex parents and an identical sample of 44 teenagers with heterosexual parents. Researcers found that in depressive symptoms, anxiety and school adjustment (psychosocial outcomes) there were no differences in both groups, meaning that their peer relationships were positive. This means that the difference was not due to the function of homosexuality or heterosexuality of parents (family type). They further found no notable effects on the children’s sexuality or romantic relationships.

The study seeks to answer the following questions

  • Is there a difference in peer relationship between adolescents of same-sex couples and heterosexual couples?
  • What levels of social acceptance exist between children of homosexuals and heterosexual?
  • How do adolescents of homosexual parents relate with those of heterosexual parents?

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