Identity struggles teens have when leaving home and 5 ways you can help them
The teenage years can be challenging for any child, but for some adopted teens, the prospect of growing older and potentially leaving home can sometimes add layer of complexity.
When the time comes to contemplate the future, teens may begin to wonder, “Who am I?” and “What will I be like as an adult?” For adopted teens, it doesn’t stop there. With an entirely new world and new people that leaving the nest brings, questions of identity may also arise.
Cradle adoption therapist Dori Fujii discusses identity challenges that adopted teenagers may face as they head off to school, or otherwise launch into the world, and how you can help along the way.
- After moving out, teens begin to think of themselves as separate from the family unit. Managing and maintaining familial relationships becomes their own responsibility. For adopted teens, this can often be more complicated. Not only do they have to decide how to manage both relationships with their adoptive family and birth family, but also what role each relationship will take in their lives.
- Many adoptees will question the role their upbringing has or should have on who they are. The traditional question of “nature versus nurture” arises as teens begin to wonder how much of their identity is biological, how much of it is their family, and how much should be their own. In addition, they have to find a way to sew all the parts together in manner that makes sense.
- Teens may exhibit changes in behavior. While the transition may cause some older teens to be rebellious and provocative, others may be prone to sullenness and depression. Parents should watch for signs of depression, which may occur around events of loss, like the breakup of a relationship, or of separation, like high school graduation. Feelings of grief may continue to arise as children become adults.
- Adoptees with ethnic backgrounds different from their adoptive families may explore their ethnicities. For the first time, transracial adoptees have to think about themselves as the rest of the world sees them on their own, rather than within the context of their family. They have to explain their story for the first time without the help of their parents. 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.
There are many ways to make the transition into adulthood and the identity formation process easier for your child.
- Talk about the future. When talking to your child about your relationship going forward, make sure they know you’ll still be there for them. Talk about life in a way that envisions a long-term relationship with your child, such as planning visits.
- Don’t change their homespace right away. While you may have been banking on using their room as your personal gym, it is important that your child doesn’t feel replaced by an elliptical. Your child still needs to feel like home is home, in order to go out into the world confidently.
- Support their individuality. In their late teenage years, teens develop her individuality while trying to seek a sense of belonging. Social ties take on increased importance as teens test-drive identities within peer groups. Let this happen and be supportive along the way.
- Encourage independence. During this time, your child will begin to reconcile their identity created with their family, their biological identity, and the identity they create while on their own. For this reason, it is important to show support for you child’s journey wherever that may take them.
- Communicate. While independence is important, the most important thing you can do is keep the channels of communication open, so that your child knows he or she can come to you if they need to.