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Adjustment Concerns With Adopted Adolescents
Adoption and Adolescence
- Wondering where they got their particular characteristics
Asking questions that you may not be able to answer such as:
- Where do I get my artistic talent?
- Was everyone in my family short/tall?
- What is my ethnic background?
- Do I have brothers and sisters?
- Feeling anger at adoptive parents
- Feeling the need to withdraw or stray far from home to find a sense of identity
- Having difficulty moving ahead without knowing about the past
- Having questions about birth-family health history
- Being sensitive about not looking like parents, siblings, or other relatives
- Feeling alienated from the family because of differences
- Struggling to integrate cultural background into self-concept (This is difficult for adolescents who have a different race or ethnic background from the adoptive parents.)
- Doubting their authenticity as “real” family members
- Wondering who they would have become under other circumstances
- Having an increased need to try on different personalities
- Realizing the possibilities that were lost
- Wanting more information about their biological families
- Intense sense of loss and rejection
- Low self-esteem
- Severe emotional and behavioral difficulties
- Memories of times before joining the adoptive family
When Parents Should Be Concerned
- Comments about being treated unfairly compared to the family’s birth children
- A new problem in school, such as trouble paying attention or falling grades
- A sudden preoccupation with the unknown
- Problems with peers
- Shutting down emotionally and refusing to share feelings
- Alcohol or drug abuse
- A drastic drop in grades
- Skipping school
- Withdrawal from family and friends
- Use or threat of violence
- Suicide threats or attempts
Strategies to Help
- Educate yourself through books or workshops run by agencies with post-adoption services.
- Join an adoptive parent support group. Consider a support group for your adopted teen.
- Start talking openly about adoption issues when your child is young. If you have not been comfortable doing that, it may be especially difficult by the time your child is a teen. However, it is never too late.
- Consider seeing a therapist who specializes in adoptive families.
- Work with your teen to agree on what constitutes trustworthy behavior in important areas such as schoolwork, chores, choice of friends, choice of leisure activities, and curfew. Give your teen a voice in the decisions without giving up your role as parent. Recognize that these limits will change as your teen gets older.
- If your teen is of a different ethnic background, make sure that the family frequently associates with other adults and children of the same ethnic background. Talk about race and culture often. Do not tolerate ethnically or racially-biased remarks from others.
- If your teen was adopted at an older age, allow him or her to acknowledge memories and talk about them.
Mental Health America http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net
National Adoption Clearinghouse http://www.adoption.org
Adoption Council of Canada http://www.adoption.ca
Canadian Psychiatric Association http://www.cpa-apc.org
Adoption: what to expect at different ages. Adopting.org website. Available at: http://www.adopting.org/expect.html. Accessed May 15, 2014.
Parenting your adopted teenager. Child Welfare Information Gateway. Available at: https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/factsheets/parent%5Fteenager/index.cfm. Published 2009. Accessed May 15, 2014.
- Reviewer: Michael Woods, MD
- Review Date: 05/2014
- Update Date: 05/15/2014