What Does Adoption Mean to a 14-16 Year Old?

Any parent of a teenager will tell you: “They think they know everything.” “They don’t hear a thing I tell them.” “They reject anything I say.” Truth be told, teens still have a lot to learn. They hear everything said to them, but want to try things out for themselves, draw their own conclusions and make their own decisions. Sweet and loving one minute, a stranger the next, teens can be perplexing to their parents.

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Teens often accept the opinion or direction of a peer or adult mentor (such as a teacher or sports coach). They can be swayed easily by those around them. As they develop their identity, a teen hears many opinions about their looks, fashion sense, how they express themselves, who they hang out with, and their adoption.

As they begin to create their adult personality and identity, they will try out various peer groups (some reflective of their inherited race and/or culture), lifestyles and looks before they find the one with which they are most comfortable. Dating raises issues of who they are and what they know about their biology. If the child is of an unplanned pregnancy, parents may fear that they will repeat the behavior of birth parents. Dialogue about sexual behavior, experimentation with drugs or alcohol and social relationships should be open and ongoing.

High school science lessons include genetics and sex education, both of which raise issues for an adopted teenager. Peers may ask questions about a teen not looking like their parents or questions about birth parents, which in turn makes your teen think more deeply about his situation. Being identified as adopted means your teen has no option to choose to reveal the adoption but he/she can choose which details to share.

Teens understand the legal implications of adoption. As they pursue social relationships, they may wonder what they would do if they found themselves in a similar situation as their birth parent. Open and frank conversations about life and choices can help your child sort through their feelings.

Being a teen means differentiating from your parents. As an adoptee, the teen has two sets of parents from which to separate. This includes fantasizing about birth parents and what their life would have been like if they were never adopted. Some spend more time, and have more interest in their birth family, as they integrate their identity.

Some teens continue to feel different from their friends. They continue to feel they must have done something wrong, been bad and feel the shame of being given away. Some resist forming close social relationships because they fear being rejected by a romantic interest due to unknown details of their past,

If your teen is preoccupied with adoption, withdrawing from friends or activities, talk to them about what is going on. Then speak to a professional about what you have learned. If your child’s behavior and actions are not considered normal developmental issues, seek professional advice on the options (individual, group or family therapy) and discuss how to raise these options with your child.

During the later teen years, your child’s adult personality begins to form. By now they have tried out fashion, personal style, peer groups, racial and cultural identities and familial relationships. You should be congratulated for allowing them to explore different identities and choosing the one that feels most comfortable. Allowing them to ask questions about their early life and adoption and assisting them in obtaining any information they may want and need confirms this. You have listened and shared views and opinions on a multitude of topics, including adoption and taught them how to respond to questions from others.

They may still have questions or unresolved feelings about their early life and continue to find ways to integrate adoption into who they have become. You have always been there and will continue to develop a relationship with an “adult” child. Knowing you are there through thick and thin, the difficult as well as the good times, means the world to your teen.

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