What are some of the adoption issues teenagers face?
While it is difficult to make a general statement about such a diverse group as adopted teenagers, it can be said that adopted persons generally lead normal healthy lives that are no different from the lives of non- adopted persons. They may; however have experiences that are unique to being adopted, and these issues may have an impact on their lives at varying times. The teen years can be stressful for anyone, but they may be particularly stressful for an adopted teen because of the issues that must be faced during this period of development. The two most common are loss and unresolved grief and identity and self-esteem. Dealing with the loss of the birth family, coupled with a search for self, are two processes that can contribute to shaping the psychological development of adopted persons.
The ‘loss’ of the birth parents as a result of adoption sets the stage for the feelings of loss and abandonment that many adopted persons may experience at some point in their lives. Adolescence is a turbulent period for many children, whether they came to their families through adoption or not. Many conflicts can arise during this time of physical and emotional change. Feeling the losses that are associated with divorce or death are considered normal and those people find comfort and support for their grief through socially accepted rituals. With adoption, the person experiences a loss of an unknown person, with no social context in which the loss is recognized. Therefore, if needed adoption loss rituals for your family are encouraged. Even adolescents who are adopted as newborns at times experience a sense of loss, as well as, feelings of rejection and abandonment by the birth parents.
Adopted teens may wonder why they were placed for adoption or what was ‘wrong’ with them that caused their birth parents to give them up. Grief is a common reaction to loss. The adopted teen may have a difficult time finding an outlet for this grief, since grieving for birth parents is not a socially acceptable reaction, especially if the adoptive family placement has been a generally happy one, the adopted teen may even feel guilty for grieving.
Questions about identity often occur first during adolescence. Not only do they have cliques to figure out, but there are messages, music from the popular culture and media that bombard them too. With all of this, there are hormones raging and causing all kinds of bodily and emotional changes. Although adopted adolescents do have the same trouble searching for a comfortable identity as non- adoptees, problems involving sexual activities and pregnancy, delinquency and substance abuse, and depression are the most common ones adoptive teenagers face. Therefore, the task of identity development during this time is often more difficult for the adopted teenager.
The question of the influence of nature versus nurture may become very real to the adopted adolescent, who is trying to determine the impact of all of these influences on his or her own identity. This stage of development includes questions about the biological family, why they were placed for adoption, whether the adolescent resembles the birth parents in looks or in other characteristics. Accompanying these issues of identity are issues of self-esteem. At this age, the teen understands the concept of relinquishment, and may feel rejected or view themselves as damaged goods, even though they cognitively know how a girl gets pregnant, and can understand why someone might not be able to care for a baby after it is born. Although they are older, adopted teens still may not have worked through all their feelings about their adoption.
Adolescents often express their reactions to loss by rebelling against parental standards. Knowing that they have a different biological origin may contribute to their need to define themselves as individuals. As adolescents move toward greater autonomy, a parent’s most difficult task is creating the delicate balance of loving and letting go. Although there were many times in years past when you encouraged your child to become self- sufficient by giving them controlled opportunities to experiment, an adolescent needs to assert their autonomy by taking their own chance to grow as an individual apart from you as their parent. Have discussions about adoption starting from when your child comes home and continue them into the teenage years.
The repercussions of adoption can last a long time, and as conscientious parents, you still need to stay involved. Encourage meeting with other adopted teenagers, either through an organized group or informally, to provide your child with support for some of the sticky issues. It is more than appropriate for teenagers to look to their peer group for solutions a they work through this major development task of learning to separate and live independently. Remember, most adopted teenagers survive and grow up to be happy, mature adults!
By Leslie Zindulka LCSW-R of Adoptiondoctors.com and Adoptioneducationclasses.com
Visit Leslie on the web at Adoptionsocialworkny.com