Healthy Mind

Parenting and children’s health

‘Everyone knows how to raise children except the people who have them.’

—P.J. O’Rourke

Story: Dr. Richard T. Bosshardt

What is the best situation for raising children? It seems an obvious and simple question. The best social situation for raising healthy, well-adjusted children is in the traditional, nuclear family—a home with both biological parents married and offering a safe, loving, nurturing environment. This has been, and still is, the gold standard. In a world where standards of normative behavior are being challenged, however, the traditional family is under attack as never before.

Marriage has been redefined as a union between two individuals regardless of sex. Supporters say this is only right and fair, that same-sex couples need the same rights as traditional ones, including the right to have children. This argument is not based on medical or sociological data but rather on political and religious grounds. During the discussion and ideological name-calling, one critical question was ignored: What about the children? How do they fare in nontraditional marital unions compared to traditional nuclear families? They clearly have a great stake but no say in the matter.

First, no one disputes children do better in a stable, loving home, even nontraditional ones, compared to homes where strife, abuse, neglect, and insecurity are prevalent. The poor track record of traditional marriage, with high rates of divorce, infidelity, and other issues, makes it hard to stay on high ground. However, when comparing otherwise equivalent traditional and same-sex households with respect to the emotional health of children, there are studies you seldom hear about.

Mark Regnerus, associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin, published the results of the New Family Structures Study in 2012. He studied 3,000 adults and looked at 40 social, emotional, and relational outcome variables. Those whose mothers were in same-sex relationships fared worse in 25 of these variables.

Is data correct?

In an October 2016 article in the journal Demography, sociologist Corinne Reczek and three others reported emotional health outcomes for children in same-sex households were about the same as those in traditional households with couples of the opposite sex. In 2017, however, it was noted that 42 percent of same-sex couples were incorrectly classified as opposite sex, so the study conclusions were invalidated. In fact, a review of the data showed a threefold increased risk of emotional health issues in children in same-sex households.

In 2013, an updated position statement by the American College of Pediatricians held that studies showing no difference in emotional health of children for same-sex versus traditional families were marred by flawed methodology, small sample sizes, and other issues, calling into question those conclusions.

Bad science

There is apparently a lot of bad science in psychological studies out there. In a 2015 study in the journal Science, 270 scientists on five continents were challenged to repeat the results in 100 papers in three major psychology journals. They found that they could not reproduce the results of one-half to two-thirds of the studies, suggesting serious flaws. It’s scary that legislators are making sweeping changes to long-held positions based on flawed science, opinions, and political considerations.

To those who read this as an unbridled critique of same-sex marriage, some additional findings are of interest. In a 2004-2013 National Health Interview Survey, the emotional health of children was poorer in cohabiting households than in married households, regardless of the gender composition of the couples. It appears being raised by married parents, whether same or opposite sex, is better for a child’s emotional health than by unmarried parents regardless of if they are same or opposite sex.

It’s the children

In the push for gay rights and a redefining of marriage to mean something other than it has meant for eons, what has been lost is the effect of all this freedom of choice on the most vulnerable: the children. We must tread carefully in promoting radical changes to something fundamental to our society: the well-being of the next generation.


About the author

Rick Bosshardt, M.D., FACS

Richard Bosshardt, M.D., graduated from the University of Miami School of Medicine in 1978. He founded Bosshardt & Marzek Plastic Surgery Associates, Lake County’s first practice to provide full-time cosmetic and reconstructive plastic surgery services, in 1989.

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