The late teen years are a crucial time for any child. For adopted teens, this time can bring on an additional host of questions and insecurities.
The teen years can be challenging for parents as well. With less and less input into what your child is doing, it’s important to offer guidance that shows your child you understand and you’re here to help. Cradle Adoption Therapist Judy Stigger addresses some of the many questions adopted kids may be asking themselves as they emerge into the adult world.
Kids move out on their own in some way, whether that’s off to school, getting their own apartment or having more freedom within their own household.
Teens begin thinking about themselves as separate from their family system. After all, they’re becoming an independent unit, more capable of making decisions without the guidance of their parents.
For adopted children, the late teen years make up an especially critical phase. Managing relationships becomes more of their own responsibility than that of their adoptive parents. Often they have two sets of families to manage instead of one, and a lot more freedom in deciding how to handle them.
They are faced with a BIG question: Who are all of these people going to be to me now that I’m going to manage these relationships as opposed to my mom and dad?
If they don’t have an open adoption, teens may choose to search. The desire to find birth relatives may be driven by a desire for a connection with someone who looks, sounds and feels similar. Or they may want to have more information about their birth family and the story of why and how they were placed from the original source. They may not tell their adoptive parents about their search in order to avoid hurt feelings.
Parents who support their child’s search, reassuring them that it does not hurt your feelings or diminish your role, protect that child from being alone and vulnerable in the process.
Teens of an ethnic background that differs from their adoptive parents may explore their ethnic identity in the wider world, especially if they have not lived in an integrated community. As children leave the shelter of family and community where they are known, they are faced with the wider society’s racism and their own ethnic group’s assumptions. Emerging adults frequently comment on whether their adoptive parents equipped them to be out in the world. They may feel anger toward their adoptive parents or uncertainty about their own identity if they experience a culture shock amongst peers of the same ethnicity.
A Family of Their Own
For many young adults, there’s some consideration of what it’s going to be like when they have a partner and a biological child. Bringing someone into the world who looks like them and sounds like them is important, particularly if they don’t know their birth family.
Should a young adopted person have a baby at a time that they are not ready, they may be adamant about raising that child because they don’t want to make the same decision their birth parents did. They may have a very difficult time envisioning how a mother could “give up” her child. This is more typical when the sense of being “discarded” hasn’t changed into a more adult understanding of adoption as the better parenting choice for a child.
It’s important to understand the challenges your child is facing – even if they aren’t talking to you about what they are feeling. Let them know you are available to listen, discuss or just sit with them.
If you would like help addressing some of these challenges, counselors at The Cradle’s Center for Lifelong Adoption Support would be happy to work with your family or with your teen individually. Information and appointments.