Most parents worry about their children going through the turmoil of adolescence. Worries range from a teen dyeing their hair purple to getting into trouble with alcohol, drugs, or sex. As the parent of an adopted adolescent, you are likely to have additional concerns. Will your teen be confused about their identity? Will a sense of abandonment and rejection replace feelings of security and comfort? Will inner turmoil from the past affect the teen’s behavior?
Adoption adds complexity to parenting adolescents. Adopted teens may need extra support in dealing with the following issues:
Identity issues can be difficult because the teen has 2 sets of parents. Common identity concerns of adopted adolescents include:
Fear of Abandonment
Leaving home is scary for most adolescents. But having already suffered the loss of one set of parents, it may be even more frightening for adopted teens. Fear of abandonment may express itself in difficulties when going off to college or moving out of the home and fears of leaving the security of the family.
Issues of Control
A hallmark of adolescence is the tension between parents who do not want to give up control and the teenager who wants independence. This tension may be especially intense for adopted teens who feel that someone else has always made decisions for them. Parents may be concerned that the teen has a predisposition toward antisocial behavior (especially when their teen’s birth parents have a history of certain problems). Parents may tighten the reins when a teen wants more freedom, resulting in the teen feeling mistrusted.
Feelings of Not Belonging
Adopted teens become more aware of how they are different from their families and their non-adopted friends. Issues of feeling different may include:
The Need to Connect With the Past
As adopted teens mature, they think more about how their lives would have been different if they had not been adopted or if another family had adopted them. Issues may include:
Adoption at an Older Age
Issues for teens adopted at an older age are even more complex. They may have endured abuse or neglect, lived in several foster homes, or moved from relative to relative before finding a permanent family. Issues often include:
Adopted teens are more likely to have problems in families where the parents insist that adoption is no different from biological parenting. Adopted teens do better when their parents understand their curiosity about their genetic history and allow them to express their grief, anger, and fear.
The following behaviors may indicate a teen is struggling with adoption issues:
When dealing with all teens, seek professional help if you notice any of the following behaviors:
Here are some tips on helping your adopted adolescent:
Adolescence is a confusing time for teens. Mental health experts are confident that adopted teens can confront and resolve their developmental issues just as their non-adopted peers do. With the support and understanding of their parents, adopted teens can forge strong family bonds that will continue to nurture their family relationships.
Mental Health America
National Adoption Clearinghouse
Adoption Council of Canada
Canadian Psychiatric Association
Adopted children. American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry website. Available at: https://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/FFF-Guide/The-Adopted-Child-015.aspx. Updated October 2015. Accessed March 9, 2016.
Hall B. Adoption and the stages of development: What parents can expect at different ages. PACT website. Available at: http://www.pactadopt.org/app/servlet/documentapp.DisplayDocument?DocID=310. Accessed March 9, 2016.
Key findings: Outcomes for adopted children and adolescents. Department of Psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst website. Available at: http://www.psych.umass.edu/adoption/key_findings/outcomes_for_adopted_children_and_adolescents. Accessed March 9, 2016.
Parenting your adopted teenager. Child Welfare Information Gateway. Available at: https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/parent_teenager.pdf. Accessed March 9, 2016.
Last reviewed March 2016 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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