Children this age think they know everything. They will listen to and consider a friend’s point of view, but typically reject guidance or advice offered by their parents. Hormonal changes can lead to listlessness or restlessness and argumentative or combative behavior. At other times, your teen will be sweet and loving as they were when they were younger.
Teens are developing an identity and are influenced by who they are, who their friends are and who they want to become. They are concerned about body image—compare their shape and size to peers and worry about how they will look as they grow and mature. In their desire to belong, they imitate the behavior, mannerisms, language and dress of peers and role models. They may try out a few styles or lifestyles before they find one with which they are comfortable. They may experiment with drugs and alcohol or engage in sexual activity. Adopted teens who are of a different ethnic or culture that their adoptive parents and siblings may seek out peer relationships that include those of a similar background.
School assignments on biology and family relationships, as well as more serious social relationships raise issues on identity. Peers may ask why they don’t look like their parents or siblings or what they know about their birth family or the country where they were born. Strangers may assume they speak a language or know the customs of a country or culture they look like. It is a difficult time for them.
The developmental task of all teens at this age is to create an identity separate from their parents. For the adopted child, this means a separate identity from TWO sets of parents, birth and adopted. They have information on adoptive parents, may have some information on birth parents and often fantasize about what they don’t know. As a result, some adopted teens become more interested in their own history and birth parents at this time.
Your teen should now understand the reasons for adoption planning, as well as the implications on their life and how they are viewed by others. Conversations about their life and adoption, in general, can be more in depth and should include circumstances that may lead to an adoption, including behavior, consequences and choices. You should be prepared to discuss abstinence, birth control, abortion, adoption, parenting and more. These need to be open and frank conversations.
If you have not shared their entire story, this is the time to add the details. It is important to confirm information you were told prior to sharing it with your teen, particularly if you feel it may upset them. Take the time to process what you know and understand why you have not shared it before. Assess your teen’s readiness to hear and deal with the facts or accept the unknown. Think through how you will say it and what documentation you may want to present to them.
The way you convey information is important. It is not only your words, consider your non-verbal body language and facial expressions as well. The more comfortable you are during these discussions the better, as it will convey to your teen that they can raise any questions or concerns.
Some examples of how to best raise issues or answer questions:
Parent: I’d like to share some facts about your adoption with you.
Teen: Not now.
Parent: Ok. When can we talk?
Teen: Whenever, mom.
Parent: This is not a “whatever” moment. Let’s set a time to talk.
Teen: Good. We can talk after dinner.
Parent: Yeah, sure.
Teen: Do you know where my birthmother is?
Parent: The last I knew she was in _________. Why are you asking?
Teen: Just curious.
Parent: Would you like me to find out where she is?
Teen: You’d do that?
Parent: Sure. Just tell me what you want to know and I will try and find out.
Teen: Um……I just want to know where she is.
Parent: Ok. Are you thinking maybe you want to talk to her or meet her?
Teen: I was, but afraid to tell you.
Parent: Remember when we talked and I said I would always be there for you. I would answer your questions and find out what I could if you wanted to know. I said I would always be by your side. I meant it. I will find out what I can and then we can decide what to do. I’m here if you want to talk.
Teen: Gee, thanks, mom.
Parent: I saw a new story about the Internet and kids searching for birthparents. Have you thought about doing that?
Parent: Just wondered. If you ever wanted to know something or find your birthparents—you’d ask me to help, right?
Parent: Sounds like you aren’t taking me seriously. I mean it, I would help.
Teen: Well, I do want to know why she didn’t keep me.
Parent: I know that still hurts sometimes. I told you what I knew – that she was young and didn’t have any way to support you and her family wouldn’t help.
Parent: Is there something else you want to know?
Teen: I’d really like to hear her say it. I mean, why she didn’t keep me.
Parent: We can start by going back to the adoption agency and asking them if they have any more information.
Teen: You can do that?
Parent: Yes. Let me see what I can find out or if we can go meet with them.
Teen: I have no friends. No one likes me.
Parent: What's going on?
Teen: Mary is having a party and didn't invite me. I hate my life!!!
Parent: That sucks, but why is this party making you so upset.
Teen: She doesn’t like me. Being adopted sucks….
Parent: How do you jump from this party to adoption?
Teen: She says I wasn’t wanted. Now she doesn’t want me at her party. It’s the same thing. I wasn’t good enough then and I’m not good enough now.
Parent: Wow. I am sorry you feel that way. Mary has a lot to learn about adoption. She’s just wrong. Your adoption had nothing to do with you. Your birthmother couldn’t take care of any baby at that time.
Teen: That’s not the point. She hates me and now everyone hates me.
Parent: I am sorry she treats you badly, but you do have other friends. We can plan something with the ones who do like you. Who accept you for who you are.
Teen: It’s not going to help mom.
Parent: No, it won’t get you invited to the party. But you could have fun with your friends.
Teen: Could we have a party here?
Parent: Sure. Let’s just review the house rules. Daddy and I will be home at all times. No drinking or drugs. You need to know everyone who is coming.
Teen: Mom, no one will come.
Parent: Your choice. You can have all your friends here if you want. Just let’s pick a day.
Teen: I’ll think about it.
Teen: Do I have any brothers or sisters?
Parent: We were told _____________________.
Teen: But, did my birth parents have more kids after me?
Parent: I don’t know. Why are you curious now?
Teen: Just am.
Parent: Would you like me to try and find out?
Teen: Yes, please.
Parent: Okay. I will ask and let you know.
Here are some examples of how to help your child answer questions that are posed to them by others. Your teen has choices, teach them what they are.
Peer: Why didn’t she keep you?
ANSWER THE QUESTION WITH SPECIFIC INFORMATION
Teen: My birthmother was very young at the time. She wasn’t ready to take care of any baby. Her parents and my birthfather wouldn’t help. She didn’t want an abortion. She made an adoption plan so I would grow up in a family that could take care of me.
ASK WHY THEY WANT TO KNOW
Teen: Why are you asking me this?
Peer: Just curious.
Teen: Not everyone who gets pregnant can parent a child. My birthparents made a decision to choose someone else to raise me.
EDUCATE THEM ABOUT ADOPTION IN GENERAL
Teen: Just because people have sex, doesn’t mean they are prepared for a pregnancy. Some people choose to have an abortion. For the ones who don’t, they can parent or make an adoption plan. Sometimes they don’t have enough money or no one or help them. Sometimes that don’t have a place to live. They may already have children and their life circumstances prevent them from raising another one. That is common overseas, In places like China, there is a limit on the number of children you can have. Most families want boys, so the girls are often abandoned and then adopted by other people. Luckily, Americans can adopt Chinese children.
Just because people make an adoption plan, doesn’t mean it is easy. Birth parents need to think through what they are doing and if they want contact with their children or adoptive families, as they grow. These are called open adoptions. I didn’t have one of those, but someday I hope to meet my birthparents.
Teen: That’s very personal and I don’t know you well enough to answer. (Then, if you want, you can EDUCATE).
Any of these conversations can raise or resurface questions your child has about their adoption or birth family. It can challenge their self-esteem and increase the feelings of not belonging or being different. Some teens even feel the shame of being “given away” for adoption. Some feel they must have been bad or done something wrong to be “given up.”
Remember to revisit adoption with your teen periodically. If your child seems to be struggling with their identity or preoccupied with adoption, seek professional advice. First, talk to someone without your child. Lay out the issues and find out if this is normative teen or adoptive development. If they feel your child could benefit from therapy, discuss the options—individual, group or family therapy. Also discuss how to broach this with you child.
The foundations for the adult relationship you have with your child is being set during these years. Whether talking about adoption, dating, what’s for dinner or the latest Hollywood gossip, you are sharing views and opinions. Current TV, movies and news shows provide lots of ammunition and opportunities for these talks. Use age appropriate language, ask questions and wait for answers. Listen to what your child wants and needs to know as well as when they don’t want to talk about it, and teach them how to handle themselves and questions from others. Fielding questions about adoption will be an ongoing event for your child. The times your are alone with your child are a safe place to practice answers to these questions. The way you explain and teach will last them a lifetime.