Talking to Children About Adoption: 17-18 Years Old

Most seventeen year olds seem more aware of what they need to do to gain the trust of their parents as well as their independence from them. They also have a better sense of who they are and have developed stronger peer relationships. As they near their 18th birthday, their focus on adulthood and “freedom” takes over their thinking and planning.

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They have hopes and dreams for their future, fall in love easily and frequently and turn to peers as role models. Conversations about leaving home, going to college or getting their own apartment raise anxieties for teens and parents. Parents have worked for years to prepare their children to do just this, but worry if their child is ready. Teens try to reassure parents with all of their accomplishments to date.

Entitlement is an issue for some teens. They feel you owe them. If you have raised your child to expect to be given everything they want, this is the time to talk about “earning” what they need and want. Be prepared for a lot of resistance from your child, making you feel guilty and falling back into the “giving” mode. This is a critical learning moment for both of you. Your child will no longer be the center of the universe. Moving out means giving up the self-centered days of youth and developing the motivation to work for what they need and want. They will be making choices, setting their own schedules, deciding who they will be friends with, what they will eat and how much sleep they will get.

You will hold your breath and watch from the sidelines—wanting something (independence) and being ready for it are two different things. Teens on the cusp of adulthood still lack the knowledge, life skills and experience. When faced with new or challenging situations, some make independent decisions. Others turn to parents for help and guidance but asking for and following suggestions or guidance are two different things.

Parents may be excited about launching an independent “adult” and proud of their success as parents. Others fear their “child” is not ready to leave the nest and fear the attempt’s failure will be seen as a reflection of their skill as parents in raising a child. They want to have one last talk, often repeating information on dating, drinking and drug use. Advice on finances may be met with resistance or major concern. Some parents offer to assist financially while their child establishes themselves and becomes self-sufficient.

Leaving home for college or their own apartment is exciting. However, some teens have the need to fight with parents to make the leaving easier, to prove they do not need you. As excited as they are to be moving on and out on their own, losing another parent is more stressful for the adoptee. Separation is not easy for parents either.

The assumption is that you have shared the adoption information with your child by this age. However, for teens that have not been given full adoption information, 18 signifies an age where they themselves can request such information about adoption without an adoptive parent’s approval. States vary on what information is available.

Adoptive parents continue to worry that their child will repeat behaviors of the birth parents, or reunite with birth parents and form new parental allegiances. They are usually fearful of raising the issue—of putting the thought into their child’s head. But these talks need to take place.

Parent: I can’t believe you’re moving out. I am so proud of you.
Teen: Can’t wait (smile so big it may break their face)
Parent: I want you to go. But I want to make sure you are safe and happy.
Teen: I am.
Parent: You have to be careful. Not too much drinking and no drugs.
Teen: Sure mom.
Parent: I mean it. There are a lot of bad people out there. They will want you to do lots of things you shouldn’t.
Teen: We spoke about this before. A hundred times.
Parent: I know. I just worry.
Teen: I’ll be fine.
Parent: You know you can call me/us for anything.
Teen: Yep.
Parent: Would you?
Teen: Sure.
Parent: I mean it. Anything. Just to say hi. If you get into any trouble. If you are thinking about your birth parents. Anything.
Teen: I know mom.
Parent: Do you think about them? About finding them? Meeting them?
Teen: Sometimes.
Parent: I am always here to talk about them or help you look for them.
Teen: But you don’t want me to.
Parent: I’m just worried. We don’t know what they might want. I worry you will no longer need me.
Teen: You raised me, they didn’t. I will always need you. I love you. But I need to know who I am. Who they are.
Parent: I understand. If you want me to help you get information, just let me know.
Teen: Thanks mom.
Parent: What else can I do? Did we forget anything? Can I help you pack? I am so proud of you. When did my little girl/boy grow up?
Teen: I’m good mom. Thanks. Love you.
Parent: You, too. Forever and always.

How you and your teen handle the separation years will influence your relationship with your adult child in the years to come.

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