About 1% of 9 and 10-year old children surveyed self-identified as gay, bisexual or transgender.
This finding was detailed in “Child Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development Cohort Study,” co-authored by Jerel P. Calzo and Aaron J. Blashill, and which appeared in JAMA Pediatrics.
Majority of studies indicate that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) self-identification generally occurs during the mid-adolescent years. So “this is such an important stage, biologically and socially,”said lead author Calzo, an associate professor in the SDSU School of Public Health.
At 9 and 10, youth – whether through their peers, media or parents – are beginning to be exposed to more information about relationships and interacting in the world. Also, they may not see any of this as sexual, but they are beginning to experience strong feelings, said Calzo.
Calzo and Blashill utilized the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study dataset, a multisite, longitudinal study exploring brain development and health among children aged 9 and 10 over a 10-year period, leading to the 1 percent finding for self-identification.
“One percent is sizable, given that they are so young,” Blashill said. “For so long, social scientists have assumed that there is no point in asking kids at this age about their sexual orientation, believing they do not have the cognitive ability to understand.” But “it is important to have a baseline to understand how sexuality develops and how it may change over time.”
Blashill and Calzo also sought to understand how parents perceived their children’s sexual and gender identities. Surprisingly, nearly 7% of parents, when asked about the sexual identity of their children, reported their child might be gay; and 1.2% reported that their child might be transgender.
Another finding was that children overwhelmingly reported no problems at home or school related to their minority sexual orientation or gender identity while 7% of parents reported gender identity-based problems.
As sexual and gender minorities experience higher rates of physical and mental health issues than do their heterosexual counterparts, the research “may provide crucial insights into resiliency development within the LGBT community”, said the authors, adding that “it could also help lead to improved programs and policies to better serve the community.”
Yet another key finding is the need for researchers to identify better ways to explore identity issues among younger populations, with about 24% of those surveyed indicating that they did not understand questions about sexual orientation.
“If we can understand identity development earlier and can track development using large datasets, we can begin improving research and prevention around risk and protective factors,” Calzo said,.