Being an LGBTQ+ Parent

Families with parents who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer (LGBTQ+) have dramatically increased in the last 10 years (Goldberg, 2018). These families have the same makeup as other families and may have parents who are married or single. Parents may also cohabitate or live in separate households. Increased legal protections and better social acceptance have propelled these family numbers to increase, while families in other demographics have seen declining numbers (Family Equality Council, 2017). Rigorous and prolific research indicates that children from LGBTQ+ families demonstrate the same outcomes of well-being as children from non-LGBTQ+ families.

Challenges

Families from many diverse backgrounds can encounter challenges in their communities, and LGBTQ+ families are no exception. The social and legal environments of a community are often a determining factor in the frequency of LGBTQ+ families choosing to live in that community (Gates, 2015). Supportive attitudes and resources vary geographically and culturally within the United States. Research has shown that common minority challenges, such as stigma, discrimination, and lack of resources, can negatively impact LBGTQ+ families (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 2020). These challenges can be distressing for LGBTQ+ parents. For example, in custody or other legal disputes, sexual orientation and/or gender status have been highlighted as reasons to deny or restrict custody, even though these arguments have been repeatedly dismissed by research. Success as an LGBTQ+ parent is often supported by the parents’ ability to feel comfortable and secure with their identity and choices and convey this security to their children as they, the parents, navigate the challenges that society may place on them.

Supportive Communities

Some communities may be more accepting of the LGBTQ+ population than others. Many communities, schools, and activity programs offer resources that are inclusive of LGBTQ+ families. For example, many schools have established chapters of the Gay-Straight Alliance Network (GSA), which is an organization that intends to build alliances across sexual orientations to make positive strides in the community. Similarly, the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) is a national organization that is influential in policy and positive societal change and offers a robust number of resources and tools for families to use. GLSEN began as a small group of teachers advocating for the LGBTQ+ community, but, today, they have a membership of over 1.5 million people that includes teachers, students, parents, and other advocates. Finding and connecting with these organizations and other supportive organizations in your area may help your family make positive connections and constructive changes in your community.

Bullying, Stigma and ensuing Transgressions, and Discrimination

Some of the most common worries for LGBTQ+ parents are that their children will face bullying, stigma and ensuing transgressions, and discrimination because of their parents’ lifestyle choices (Goldberg & Byard, 2020). Even with the increasing acceptance and legal protections that support LGBTQ+ families, these families may still be impacted by bullying, stigma, and discrimination. By confronting these challenges, LGBTQ+ parents can build family resiliency and, hopefully, increase tolerance in their communities. These are important concerns for parents, and there are measures that can be taken to lessen these worries.

When parents in these families are selecting schools or activities, they may wish to do some research to understand the school’s or specific activity’s policies or rules, environment, culture, and content to ensure that a school choice or activity is conducive to a healthy LGBTQ+ family. Families may want to consider policies and rules that include anti-bullying guidelines that, specifically, are inclusive of the LGBTQ+ community. Work with your child to identify teachers, coaches, and other leaders who will be supportive if any issues do arise (Goldberg & Byard, 2020).

One of the main challenges LGBTQ+ parents face with their children’s education is discrimination by school personnel. This discrimination may be due to personnel demonstrating a lack of understanding of how to interact with diverse populations (Goldberg & Byard, 2020). Though potentially difficult, parents need to face these challenges as their engagement in their children’s school experience can have positive implications for the family and community. One way that parents can confront these challenges is, if possible, to find out if the school or organization offers cultural competence training to their staff regarding working with LGBTQ+ families. Another way to combat stigma and discrimination is to be involved in your child’s school or activity by regularly speaking with teachers and administrators. Parents can also volunteer to participate in school activities, so they are actively involved in their child’s school life and can connect with other parents.

LGBTQ+ parents may also find it helpful to prepare their children to have conversations or simply answer peer questions about their family. Parents, in this situation, should listen to their child and, to some degree, let them take the lead in these conversations to ensure that their level of explanation matches their child’s developmental level. Parents will want to keep open communications with their child at all levels of maturity to ensure that the child is receiving the support they need. Most of the research on this topic shows that children of LGBTQ+ parents are not teased any more or less than their counterparts; however, the parents’ sexual orientation or gender status can be used in the instances when teasing does happen (Goldberg & Byard, 2020). Remember, keep your conversations honest, ongoing, and age appropriate.

Though there is a high level of LGBTQ+ families in many communities across the United States, some societal challenges exist, and LGBTQ+ parents must navigate these obstacles to promote their family’s resiliency. Factors, such as stigma and legal issues, remain risk factors for these families. Parents can seek out institutions that are proactive in LGBTQ+ awareness and understanding to lessen potential harm to their family. Parents who listen to their child and are active in their child’s academic and extracurricular life can help to reduce risk factors and promote acceptance.

Additional Resources

For LGBTQ+ Parents:

LGBTQ Family Fact Sheet
This fact sheet can give you a better understanding of the demographics and challenges of LGBTQ+ families.

Movement Advancement Project (MAP)
MAP can help parents research state-level policies and trends regarding LGBTQ+ families.

Gay Parent: LGBTQ Magazine
Gay Parent magazine has been in publication since 1998. The subscription-based magazine features resources and topics that are relevant to the gay parent population.

For Children with LGBTQ+ Parents:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
This webpage lists a number of popular government and community organizations that offer support to the LGBTQ+ community.

Colage
Colage is a network of peers who are in families with LGBTQ+ parents.

PFLAF
PFLAG provides support, information, and resources for LGBTQ+ people, their parents and families, and allies.

Proud Parenting: Teenview
Teenview is a sub section of Proud Parenting that offers articles that are relevant to teens who have LGBTQ+ parents.

References

Family Equality Council. (2017). LGBTQ family fact sheet. https://www2.census.gov/cac/nac/meetings/2017-11/LGBTQ-families-factsheet.pdf

Gates, G. J. (2015). Marriage and family: LGBT individuals and same-sex couples. The Future of Children, 25(2), 67–87. http://www.jstor.org/stable/43581973

Goldberg, A. E., & Byard, E. (2020). LGBTQ-parent families and schools. In A. Goldberg, & K. Allen (Eds.), LGBTQ-parent families, (pp. 287-300). https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-35610-1_18

Goldberg, S. K., & Conron, K. J. (2018, July). How many same-sex couples in the U.S. are raising children? U.C.L.A. School of Law Williams Institute. https://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/publications/same-sex-parents-us/

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2020). Understanding the well-being of LGBTQI+ populations. The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/25877

Screen Time and Autism

Screen time – understanding the positives and negatives and regulating your family’s usage of it can be overwhelming. You may feel as though your daily life, and your children’s daily lives, revolve around screens and digital media. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has created screen time recommendations for parents and caregivers of children. The type of screen time that the AAP recommends families limit is considered recreational. Recreational screen time includes digital media like television shows, video games, and various forms of social media.

The AAP (2016) suggests families follow the digital-media guidelines listed below for children:

  • Birth to 18 months. Avoid digital-media use.
  • 18 to 24 months. Use only high-quality programming, and view the programming with your child. Try to avoid letting your child use digital media on their own.
  • 2 to 5 years. Limit screen time to 1 hour per day. Continue using only high-quality programming. Use media as an opportunity to discuss with your child what they are seeing and doing on screen; make connections, if possible, to the real world; and remind them the screen world is not reality.
  • 5 to 18 years. During these years, you should pay close attention to not just how much screen time your child gets but to when they are using screens. Ensure your child is getting a full night’s sleep (i.e., 9 – 12 hours a night for ages 6 – 12 and 8 – 10 hours a night for ages 13-18), and they are engaging in at least 1 hour of physical activity a day. In addition, you may wish to instill a “no screen time” directive during family mealtimes or other family times, like game night. Finally, help your child develop a period of “downtime” that does not involve screens, like taking a walk in the park, reading a book, or writing thoughts in a journal.

The AAP (2016) also suggests that families avoid fast-paced programs, programming that has violent subject matter, and applications that contain a lot of distracting content like flashing advertisements and excessive noise. Families should turn off devices if they are not in use and avoid using media as a way to calm their child. Furthermore, screens should not be in children’s bedrooms, and screen time before bedtime should be monitored and limited. Using screens immediately before bedtime can lead to sleep issues.

To help regulate screen time usage, families can create and download a Family Media Plan here.

Types of Screen Time

Not all screen time is bad. There are digital activities your child may engage in that are necessary and appropriate uses of technology. For example, with the increased use of digital devices within the classroom, your child may need to use a computer during school hours or use a tablet to complete their homework or read their assigned classwork materials. Additionally, an activity, like video chatting with an absent parent, a distant relative, or friends who have moved away, is a positive way to use technology. This type of use allows for social interaction even when there is a physical distance between a loved one and your child.

Using digital media can have additional positive uses. For example, for children who struggle when interacting in social settings and communicating with others, like children with Autism, using digital media can help them manage their interactions and have downtime to handle daily, new, or even challenging situations.

Autism Spectrum Disorder

Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can have “significant social, communication, and behavioral challenges” (Indiana Resource Center for Autism, 2022). As a result, part of a child’s evidence-based communication and social intervention practices may include the following screen-related options (Lofland, 2014):

  • Video Modeling – records and displays a visual model of a targeted behavior or skill.
  • Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) – teaches a child to communicate by exchanging a picture for the object they need or desire.
  • Voice Output Communication Aids (VOCA) – a portable electronic device that can generate a digital speech output.

Reminder: These types of screen time would not be included in the recommendations for limiting recreational screen time as they are used for daily functioning and communication

Using Media Constructively

Children with ASD are at a higher risk for using technology in a way to “sensory-seek,” which means they use technology to view highly arousing or violent content in order to get enough sensory stimulation(Lane & Radesky, 2019). However, with the correct monitoring and use, parents can use recreational media in a constructive way for children affected by Autism. Please see below.

Television Shows can be used by parents to help model positive behaviors and social interaction for their children (Connick, 2021). Children with ASD can have issues with communication, social interaction, and behavior. By watching shows with your child and discussing what the characters are doing, like sharing or playing with other children, you can help to open discussions with your child (even if it is you doing the majority of the talking) about how interactions work in a way that is interesting and less stressful for your child.

A few television shows that may be beneficial for your child can be found here.

Video Games (that are age appropriate) can be used to connect children to others because the individuals engaged in the game share common interests, and they can interact with each other or others in a comfortable setting around a common activity. By removing any face-to-face interaction, which can often be intimidating for children with ASD, less stress is placed on the child as moves can be redone or repeated, and mistakes can be corrected more easily (Smith, 2016).

Games that may interest your child will depend on their interests and ability to learn how to play the game(s) in question. Popular games such as Minecraft, Pokémon, Legend of Zelda, and Mario Bros. offer opportunities to engage and learn in a fun environment that can be shared and discussed with other peers (Kulman, 2020).

Even if you can’t or do not have an interest in playing the game with your child, you can, and should, involve yourself in their interest by watching them play and asking questions. This can help to foster a connection with you child and positively contribute to the social aspect of the game because your child learns how to answer your questions and practices interacting with you.

Social Media, when monitored and discussed, can also help to broaden social interactions and relationships between your child and your child’s peers. A study conducted by researchers at the Yale Department of Psychiatry and Yale Child Study Center has shown that children with ASD are able to create friendships with high quality by using social media (Van Schalkwyk et al., 2017). Although more research needs to be completed, it is believed that “social media may be a way for adolescents with ASD without significant anxiety to improve the quality of their friendships” (Van Schalkwyk et al., 2017).

Ultimately, screen time for your child is going to depend on what works best for you, your family, and your child. However, there are useful tools for children who struggle with a disability, like ASD that limits their ability to interact in social situations. Using digital resources that are available to your child can be beneficial. Remember, monitor your child’s screen time usage, role model appropriate screen time behaviors, and use safe digital media practices. You can learn more about general internet safety here.

References

American Academy of Pediatrics. (2016, November 1). Where we stand: Screen time. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/family-life/Media/Pages/Where-We-Stand-TV-Viewing-Time.aspx

Connick, R. (2021, April 28). Three great shows for children with Autism and their parents. Autism Parenting Magazine. https://www.autismparentingmagazine.com/autism-three-great-shows/

Council on Communications and Media, Hill, D., Ameenuddin, N., Chassiakos, Y. R., Cross, C., Hutchinson, J., Levine, A., Boyd, R., Mendelson, R., Moreno, M., & Swanson, W. S. (2016). Media and young minds. Pediatrics, 138(5), e20162591. https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2016-2591

Council on Communications and Media, Hill, D., Ameenuddin, N., Chassiakos, Y. R., Cross, C., Hutchinson, J., Levine, A., Boyd, R., Mendelson, R., Moreno, M., & Swanson, W. S. (2016). Media use in school-aged children and adolescents. Pediatrics, 138(5), e20162592. https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2016-2592

Indiana Resource Center for Autism. (2022). Learn about autism. https://www.iidc.indiana.edu/irca/learn-about-autism/index.html

Kulman, R. (2022, August 12). Making popular video games good for kids affected by autism. Autism Parenting Magazine. https://www.autismparentingmagazine.com/video-games-for-autism-kids/

Lane, R., & Radesky, J. (2019). Digital media and autism spectrum disorders: Review of evidence, theoretical concerns, and opportunities for intervention. Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics40(5), 364–368. https://doi.org/10.1097/DBP.0000000000000664

Lofland, K. (2014). Evidence-based practices for effective communication and social intervention. Indiana Resource Center for Autism. https://www.iidc.indiana.edu/irca/articles/evidence-based-practices-for-effective-communication-and-social-intervention.html

Smith, H. (2016, October 14). How video games benefit students with special needs. Asperger / Autism Network. https://www.aane.org/video-games-benefit-students-special-needs/

Van Schalkwyk, G. I., Marin, C. E., Ortiz, M., Rolison, M., Qayyum, Z., McPartland, J. C., Lebowitz, E. R., Volkmar, F. R., & Silverman, W. K. (2017). Social media use, friendship quality, and the moderating role of anxiety in adolescents with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders47(9), 2805–2813. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-017-3201-6

Your Child’s Extracurricular Activities: Too Much or Just Right

Piano lessons. Soccer practice. Swimming lessons. Tutoring sessions. After spending a full day in a child care facility or at school, many children also participate in extracurricular activities in the evenings or during the weekends. As a parent, you want to introduce your child to new experiences and opportunities and foster their interests. Extracurricular activities can be positive and fulfilling for your child. However, your child also needs to be able to enjoy downtime; quality time with family; and time to complete school responsibilities, such as homework or reading. Before you enroll your child in the next activity, you may want to consider if your child’s extracurricular activity schedule is too much or just right?

The Pros

For many children, participating in extracurricular activities can positively impact their social skills, academic abilities, and physical development. In addition, extracurricular activities can provide safety and supervision for a period of time when children may otherwise be unsupervised. Further, extracurricular activities can offer opportunities for your child to be physically active as opposed to being sedentary and engaging in behaviors such as watching TV, scrolling on social media, or playing video games.

The Cons

Engaging in too many extracurricular activities or participating in activities that do not interest your child can have a negative impact on your child. In deciding whether your child should continue, cut back, or stop participating in an extracurricular activity, look for signs that your child may feel overscheduled. Signs of overscheduling may include the following symptoms in your child:

  • Being tired, anxious, or depressed
  • Experienced headaches or stomachaches due to stress, poor eating habits, or lack of sleep
  • Falling behind on schoolwork or experiencing a drop in grades
  • Showing a loss of interest in activity

Additional Considerations

Your child may not show signs of overscheduling, or the symptoms may be mild, or they may come and go. The following questions can help you further understand if your child’s extracurricular activities are helping or hindering their growth and development.

Time – How much time do you spend with your child? Does your child spend time with friends or other family members? Do you and your child long to spend more time together or with other family members?

School – Is the time spent on extracurricular activities getting in the way of academics (e.g., falling behind on homework or assignments, declining grades)? Does participation in activities encourage your child to do well in school (e.g., maintaining a minimum grade point average in order to participate)?

Rest – Is your child getting the recommended amount of sleep for their age? Does your child have unstructured time to play, think, or create?

Interests – Does your child seem to enjoy the activity? Do you have to convince or bribe them to go to practices or participate while they are there?

Costs – Do the costs associated with your child’s activities fit comfortably into your family’s budget (e.g., fees, uniforms, equipment, travel)? Are you sacrificing necessities so that your child can participate?

Talk it Through with Your Child

Extracurricular activities can serve as an enriching experience for your child and family. However, unstructured downtime is also important. If you notice your child is exhibiting signs of being overscheduled, have a conversation with them. Talking with them about their participation in extracurricular activities can help you learn which activities they enjoy the most and which ones they may not enjoy or enjoy less than they used to. Your child may also express a desire to spend more free time with friends and family or simply have evenings when they can be at home and relax. This information can help you determine how to adjust your child’s extracurricular activities to align with their interests and needs. Together, you can create a schedule that works best for your child and your family.

References

American College of Pediatricians. (2016, March 16). Overscheduled! https://archive.acpeds.org/overscheduled

Cleveland Clinic. (16 July, 2018). Is your child overscheduled? Kids need ‘down time.’ Healthessentials. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/is-your-child-overscheduled-kids-need-down-time/

Mahoney, J. L., Harris, A. L., & Eccles, J. S. (2006). Organized activity participation, positive youth development, and the over-scheduling hypothesis. Social Policy Report. Society for Research in Child Development, 20(4), 1-32. https://doi.org/10.1002/j.2379-3988.2006.tb00049.x

Schiffrin, H. H., Godfrey, H., Liss, M., & Erchull, M. J. (2015). Intensive parenting: Does it have the desired impact on child outcomes? Journal of Child and Family Studies24(8), 2322-2331. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-014-0035-0

Wedge, M. (2014, August 16). Overscheduled Kids: How much of a good thing is too much? Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/suffer-the-children/201408/overscheduled-kids