Preteens are struggling with identity. They are trying to figure out who they are and where they fit in. As they spend more and more time away from their families, they are influenced by peers and other adults. They are being exposed to new ideas and behaviors. In turn, they are thinking things through and making decisions. You want to be part of that conversation. They can become moody and try to push you away in an attempt to develop as an individual, separate from the family. Allowing your preteen to grow and mature does not mean they don’t need you.
It is important for you and your preteen to talk about their new independence. They need to know you are glad they are maturing and finding their way, but that with new experiences and relationships come more risks and challenges. They most likely will react with a sassy comment, such as “I know what I am doing.” “You don’t get it.” or “Why do you ALWAYS spoil my fun?” If you hang in there, you can use this as a beginning of deeper—meaning of life—experiences. Remain genuine and empathetic in all conversations. Share that you felt the same way with your parents, that you understand why they feel you are clueless, but you have come to realize your parents only wanted the best for you. That you want them to grow up and try new things and make new friends, but you want them to be safe and happy at the same time.
Preteens are experiencing body changes, become concerned with body image and compare themselves to peers. They want to look like, act like and be accepted by the “cool kids.” Relationships between girls are erratic and bullying behavior is common. Boys tend to be more focused on what they are doing, can become competitive, and less on with whom they are doing it.
Now that your preteen is venturing out more into the world and meeting new people, it is important to have a conversation about relationships. During these years, daughters gravitate to mothers and sons to fathers. Where a same sex parent is not present, preteens often look for role models outside the home. They need to be clear on what constitutes healthy relationships with friends and love interests. And yes, preteens fall in love. Conversations about safe relationships should include physical, emotional and verbal abuse. This is also the time to make sure your preteen knows about sex and other acceptable behaviors. This is a good time to include adoption in the conversation on behavioral consequences and personal choices.
This is the time for you to create a relationship that will last a lifetime. You may not always agree, but you need to set rules for safe behavior, always letting you know where they are and to be able without judgment to notify you when they don’t feel safe or have had an uncomfortable experience. Setting the foundation for a trusting, open dialogue is critical. If it doesn’t feel right, they need to know what to do, who to tell and how to extricate themselves.
Try to meet your preteen’s friends and their parents. Confirm the presence of parents or a responsible adult when they are spending time with friends. Do not crumble to pleas of “You are embarrassing me.” or “No one else’s parents do that.” If it feels more comfortable, let your home be the “hang out” for your preteen and their friends, where you can keep an eye on activities and behaviors. Locating a local sports team, activity group or interest club is a way to help them feel good about themselves and their competence with a skill or interest.
Think back to your preteen years and how you felt about your peers and parents. What did you do that as an adult you see was risky? All preteens are trying new activities and exploring new relationships. Be prepared to listen and understand your preteens’ experiences.
Becoming independent is not an overnight event. It actually started when your child learned to walk and run, feed themselves and develop other self-care skills. They still depended on you and others to meet there needs. They were creating peer relationships in the playground and preschool. When they began school or attended activities where you were not present, they created independent relationships with peers and adult. They learned to share, cooperate, wait their turn and ask for what they needed. They shared their activities and experiences or there was a supervising adult with whom you could discuss your child’s experiences.
During these preteen years, your child continues to test their independence, meeting new people and having new experiences. School curriculum includes assignments on genetics, family formation and sexual education. Peers may be asking about their adoption, if they know “who they really are” and encouraging them to find their birthparents. Your child may not always give you the details. Your clue they are happy or upset may be in their behavior or their silence.
Raise adoption in the context of life. If you have not discussed adoption in a while, ask if they still think about it. If you need a reason to discuss it, you can find an adoption theme in a television show, movie or in the news. They are ready to hear and understand the legal process and how decisions were made in their best interest. The circumstances surrounding their adoption can be given in more detail. Questions on birth siblings may arise. General discussions of why adoption decisions are made and how adopted preteens may feel are appropriate. Raising their adoption does not cause issues to arise. Rather it will help you know what your child thinks and what questions they have. This way you can help them and reassure them adoption is something they can talk about.
It is natural for your preteen to wonder about their adoption as it affects who they are and who they will become. They may gravitate to other adopted persons or identify with a particular ethnicity if different from yours. They may want more of their adoption story or information. If you don’t have the information, you may need to try and obtain it. This does not mean your preteen is rejecting you or that want to meet birthparents at this time. It means they are thinking about them and wondering what parts of them come from their heritage and biology versus what you have provided in their upbringing and experiences.
You will not know what your preteen is thinking or feeling, or what questions they have, if you are not having the discussion. Pick a quiet place and time, listen to what your preteen has to say and have an honest dialogue. Then decide together if there is a need to do something, get information or just agree to talk again. Do not ignore your child’s questions or wishes to find to meet birth family. In this day and age, the Internet can make that happen in minutes. You want to be part of this conversation and activity, helping your child sort through information.
In the next few years, adoption will come and go as your teen continues developing into an independent person. They will use the information they have on who they were born to, melding it into who they have been raised to be. It may not always be an easy thing to do. With your assistance, they will develop into an independent and self-confident person.