Adolescence Can Bring Up Latent Issues For Adopted Teens
As therapists who work with adopted teens, as well as adoptive families, we know any family that has gone through the thoughtful process of choosing to adopt a child, bringing him or her into their family, recognizes the care that’s needed. Unless a child is adopted as a teenager, which brings its own set of considerations, by the time an adopted child reaches adolescence, families have likely addressed all sorts of emotional issues with that child and as a family.
However, in our therapy with teens, we often find that transitions can be periods in which a seemingly heretofore latent issue can become disrupted. Adolescence is a key example of one of these periods as teens shift from an identity that was largely given to them to one they can make choices about.
As Teens Examine Who They Are In The World, They Can Have Questions About Their Adoption
Being a teen is, in so many ways, a period of examining and perhaps, recreating who one is in the world. Independence is being contemplated in new ways and more and more, teens present themselves to the world not directly in context with their (adoptive) families. Adopted teens are tasked to ask questions about who they are in new ways and not always with the immediate guidance of family.
In particular, adolescence can be a moment in which teens have questions about their birth families. They have a better understanding of the world, have friends who have their own adoption stories and connect with others’ stories over social media. At times, they use social media to seek out answers or even, are approached themselves.
Good therapists can help teens find a way toward talking about what’s needed to be talked about. In our therapy practice with adopted teens, we sniff these questions and concerns out and create a space where it’s safe for them to “go there.” Sometimes, our task is to help teens learn to share these things with their parents. But in other instances, it may be too hard for them to find their way there or be ready to open up. Sometimes issues need attention sooner than a teen and their parents are ready to talk and it’s urgent for a teen to open up to someone–like a therapist–to be less alone with the struggle.
Teenage Sexuality And Relationships Can Also Raise New Awareness About A Teen’s Adoption And Early Life
The teen years are also, of course, hugely informed by an emergence of sexuality and a new understanding of reproduction. While adoption stories are all different, adopted teens often experience feelings that emerge in their first relationships and early sexuality that can be enormously evocative.
In particular, the recognition that he or she has the full biological capacity to create a baby can produce a reemergence of an awareness and curiosity about one’s own early life. Sexuality and its relationship to fertility makes these experiences real in a whole new way for teens.
Adopted Teens May Hesitate To Share These Questions With Their Parents: Therapy Can Help
There’s often a whole world going on for teens that can be hard for their parents to have access to. In our teen therapy practice, we find parents are regularly astonished and caught off-guard by the sorts of questions their teens have. In the best circumstances, teens bring these questions (worries, humiliations and conflicts) to their parents, but with some issues, they don’t. This needn’t be seen as a failing of parenting. There are so many reasons a teenager would resist raising an issue with their parents.
With adoption, there can be additional reasons. A teen might not want to offend or have questions they are unsure their adoptive parents can answer. In our therapy with teens, we help teens find ways of bringing these questions up with their adoptive parents and help facilitate it, whether through coaching or inviting parents into the therapy room.
“We’re Not Going To Not Talk About Adoption”
Overall, there’s no such thing as a casual adoption. An adoption can be beautiful and wildly successful, but it’s never casual. It’s helpful for both parents and teens to take a stance, as a family, that you’re “not going to not talk about adoption.” That’s a posture that doesn’t dictate how often or when this is discussed. Instead, it’s a decision to agree that it’s essential to not avoid talking about adoption–that you will pause and consider, particularly at moments of transition or challenge, what adoption might have to do with the emotional needs of the current situation. Is graduation from high school or considering heading off to college complicated by this moment? What about when a teen begins exploring sexuality? Or new kinds of bickering breaking out between siblings?
It’s important to leave lots of room for a wide range of experiences for teens to have and recognize that supporting teens to talk about and have room to feel whatever they’re feeling around who they are in the world, including their adoption, may change dramatically as they change dramatically.