Parenting your adopted teen

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Author: 
Siobhan Rowe
Source: 
Focus on Adoption magazine

Adoption adds complexity to the life of adopted teens, even those adopted as newborns.

All teens struggle with the question, "Who am I?" Finding the answer usually involves figuring out how they are similar to, and different from their parents--a task that can be particularly complicated for children who have both birth and adoptive parents. Unknown or missing information, or having a different ethnicity from parents, can make piecing an identity puzzle together especially difficult for adoptees.

Independence days

One of the jobs of teens is to separate emotionally from their parents. Though certainly not all, some adopted teens have problems with this separation. If your child experienced multiple moves, neglect and abuse, the prospect of leaving home could be frightening and he or she may need extra time and support.

What you can do

Adopted teens think about adoption more than we may realize and they need parents who are comfortable talking about adoption, who aren't threatened or hurt by the discussion, and who can help answer questions or look for answers.

  • Give your teen the facts that you have about their adoption. Give all the information you have about their birth parents.
  • Help your teen find missing information or, if the information can't be found, explore with them ideas about what might have led to the adoption.
  • Help your teen develop a balanced view of birth parents. Don't participate when your teen criticizes a birth parent. 
  • If your child lived in a home where substance abuse was a problem, gibe extra guidance in this area.
  • Provide contacts with other adopted teens and youth adults.
  • Point our the similarities between yourself and your teen; this can help strengthen attachment between you. 

Kids who were adopted as teens have the especially difficult job of establishing themselves into a family at a time when they would normally be pushing them away.

Search and reunion

It's not unusual for teens to show strong interest in learning more or even meeting birth family. If this prospect worries you, talk to other adoptive parents or a counsellor knowledgeable about adoption so that you are ready to guide and support your teen when and if the time comes.

Your teen may show no interest in searching for or finding birth family. If that's the case, find out if that's because of worry about hurting your feelings--if it is, hopefully, you'll be able to explain that you support the search effort.

On a practical level, this is also the time to start learning about the search process. BC has a post-adoption reunion registry, which can help adoptees and birth families make contact. Search for adoption at www.mcf.gov.bc.ca for more information.

Social networking online make it much easier to find people now. Try to advice your teen to think carefully about what eh or she wants as an outcome before launching into an internet search. Ask them to consider taking things slowly if they do find birth family.