The Cradle Blog

Identity Formation in Adopted Tweens and Teens

Teenagers start thinking themselves as separate from the family unit. They’re becoming independent and don’t need the constant guidance of their parents to make decisions for them.

For adopted children, teen years are crucial for learning how to manage relationships, as it becomes more of their responsibility instead of that of their adoptive parents. If they are in an open adoption, children often have two sets of families to manage: an adoptive family and a birth family. As they approach their teen years, they start to have a lot more freedom in deciding how to handle these two separate units.

They are faced with some big questions: Who are these people and how will they interact with me in my life? How will they interact with each other? What do they mean to me?

Teens in a Closed Adoption

If they don’t have an open adoption, teens may choose to search for their birth family. They may be searching for birth relatives to find out the story of how and why they were placed for adoption in the first place. The desire to find birth relatives may also be driven by the desire for a connection with someone who looks, sounds or feels similar. Sometimes a teen may not want to tell their adoptive parents about their effort to search for fear of hurting their feelings.

Adoptive parents who are supportive during the child’s search by reassuring them and joining with them can help protect a child from feeling alone and vulnerable during the search process.  

Culture Shock

Teens of an ethnic background that differs from their adoptive parents may want to explore that identity outside of their immediate home. This may especially be the case if they grew up in a community where they saw few people who looked like them. As teens go to school and face a wider world, they realize that there are varying assumptions of who they are. Some of these are based on their being adopted; some based on their race and ethnicity.

In order to better equip our adopted children for the world, we need to see the world through their eyes – in color.