Upfront

The current literature does not give us an accurate picture of today's gay and lesbian teenagers, human development professor Ritch Savin-Williams, PhD, said during a plenary at APA's 2009 Annual Convention.

For example, very few of these teens follow coming-out trajectories described by past research, he said. "They just don't map onto the lives of gay youth," said Savin-Williams. "If the people we are studying don't fit what we are doing, maybe something is wrong."

Some of the research is simply too negative, said Savin-Williams, who chairs the human development department at Cornell University. Researchers have focused heavily on the differences between gay and straight teens and on the risks associated with coming out, he said. But such work ignores the "incredibly healthy gay kids out there who are leaders, football players, basketball players, dancers, artists, American Idols."

A more productive research approach would be to study gay teens' intelligence, creativity and positive friendships. There's some evidence, for example, that gay teens show more diversity in their friendships than straight teens, he said.

Knowing more about this and other strengths—such as why many gay teens tend to be artistic—could aid all adolescents.

"The finger points directly at me as well," said Savin-Williams. "But if we are going to do research on gay youth, why not look at these, good, resilient, positive, ordinary things?"

—J. Chamberlin