Parents’ influence on lesbian, gay, or bisexual teens

Learn ways parents can promote positive health outcomes for their lesbian, gay, or bisexual teen

This fact sheet provides information on how parents can promote positive health outcomes for their lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB) teen.

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The teen years can be a challenging time for young people and their parents. The information is based on a review of published studies,1 which found that parents play an important role in shaping the health of their LGB teen.

When LGB teens share their sexual orientation2 (or even if they choose not to share it), they may feel rejected by important people in their lives, including their parents. This rejection can negatively influence an LGB teen’s overall well-being.

On the other hand, a positive family environment, with high levels of parental support and low levels of conflict, is associated with LGB youth who experience healthy emotional adjustment. These teens are less likely to engage in sexual risk behaviors and be involved in violence.

Compared to heterosexual youth, LGB teens are more likely to experience bullying, physical violence, or rejection. As a result, LGB teens are at an increased risk for suicidal thoughts and behaviors and report higher rates of sexual risk behavior and substance abuse.

How Parents Make a Difference

Research suggests that LGB teens experience better health outcomes when their parents support their sexual orientation in positive and affirming ways. Compared to teens who do not feel valued by their parents, LGB youth who feel valued by their parents are less likely to

  • Experience depression
  • Attempt suicide
  • Use drugs and alcohol
  • Become infected with sexually transmitted diseases

In addition, research among young gay men has shown that having a positive relationship with their parents helped them decide to have safer sex (e.g., using a condom, not having sex with high-risk partners). Many also reported that having a positive parent-teen relationship created a sense of responsibility to avoid HIV infection.

Specific Actions for Parents

Research on parenting shows how important it is—regardless of their teen’s sexual orientation—for parents to

  • Have open, honest conversations with their teens about sex
  • Know their teen’s friends and know what their teen is doing
  • Develop common goals with their teen, including being healthy and doing well in school

Although additional research is needed to better understand the associations between parenting and the health of LGB youth, the following are research-based action steps parents can take to support the health and well-being of their LGB teen and decrease the chances that their teen will engage in risky behaviors.

1 This fact sheet is based on the following publication: Bouris A., Guilamo-Ramos V, et al. A systematic review of parental influences on the health and well-being of lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth: Time for a new public health research and practice agenda. (2010). Journal of Primary Prevention; 31, 273–309. Because the systematic review focused on youth who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual and did not include research on gender identity, this fact sheet does not address transgender youth.

2 Sexual orientation: a term frequently used to describe a person’s romantic, emotional, or sexual attraction to another person.