Even in families that have great communication and talk openly about adoption, tweens and teens face challenges they may not talk to you about. These are tough years, and adoption can make this time a bit more difficult to navigate.
So what do adoptive parents need to know about the additional challenges their child may face during the early teen years? Dori Fujii, Adoptive Parent Counselor and Post-Adoption Therapist at The Cradle, shares some insight into what your tween wants you to know and how you can respond.
Adoption and the Early Teen Years: Things Your Tween Wants You to Understand
1. Middle School is Hard
This is a rough time for all children, but for adopted children, leaving the relative comfort of grade school can be even more of a challenge. During this pivotal time of identity formation, your child is starting to explore not only who they are in relation to everyone else around them, but also who they are in relation to their own adoption story. This can be especially difficult if they went through a closed adoption and don’t have all the pieces of their birth family history.
Additionally, tween adoptees may feel different from the other kids in their school or friend group—a feeling many already struggle with as they move into their teenage years—and their peers may have questions or attitudes that can be hard to handle.
2. They May Start Having New Questions About Their Adoption
Tweens and teens may also begin to think about their adoptions in more nuanced ways during this period of their lives. Cognitively, they are able to make connections they hadn’t made before, which can bring new questions to the surface.
For example, they may begin to notice more differences between themselves and their adoptive family. If their birth parents have other biological children, they might wonder why they were placed in another family but not their siblings. As they go through the process of self-identification, they may also yearn to know more about their birth parents and other biological relatives.
3. They Are Dealing With a Lot of Difficult New Emotions
At this stage of their adolescence, young people begin to more fully understand the complexity of their adoption story and start processing the difficult feelings that may accompany adoption. They may grieve the loss of their birth parents (if one or both are not in their life), feel anger in response to perceived “rejection,” or experience loneliness, even if they are surrounded by loving friends and family.
All of these feelings are normal and can take tweens or teens some time to work through. Sometimes, they may want to do it alone, while other times they may have an unspoken desire to seek help from others.
How Should Parents Respond to These Early Teen Challenges?
Validate their feelings, but don’t push them – First and foremost, know that these are real feelings, whether or not your tween or teen decides to share them with you. After all, this is a time when formerly talkative children often become more quiet and distant. While it’s important to make sure your child knows you’re there for them, it’s also OK to give them some space to explore these feelings on their own.
Don’t take anger personally – It’s also important to remember to not take feelings like anger or resentment personally, even if they are directed toward you at times. Simply telling your child you are there for them lets them know their feelings are acknowledged and validated.
Encourage any interest in their birth parents and culture – You should also recognize the differences in your family and continue to value the relationship with your child’s birth family, whether or not you have an open adoption relationship. Provide your child with opportunities to develop an interest or skill that they feel good about—perhaps related to their birth family or culture. If your child was born in another country, consider planning a homeland tour to help them learn even more about their background.
Keep communication open – Above all, it’s important to let your child know your line of communication is always open and that you will answer any questions they may have to the best of your ability—they’ll join the conversation when they’re ready.
If you’d like to talk with one of our adoption-competent therapists, we are happy to speak with you at any time. Click here to schedule a consultation.
Helpful Resources for Navigating Your Adopted Child’s Tween and Teen Years:
Adoption Learning Partners Online Class – Adopted: The Identity Project
Adoption Learning Partners On-Demand Webinar – Top 10 Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew
Adoptive Parent Online Parenting Network – Adoptive Families