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Adopted Youth and the Transition to Healthy Adulthood

Most parents of adolescents and teenagers would agree that the transition between childhood and adulthood can be one of life’s most challenging experiences – both for the child in question and the family as a whole.

This assessment may be especially true in the case of adoptive families and the children who were adopted into those families.

Like all adolescents and teens, adopted youth struggle with issues related to who they are, what role they play in the world, and who they want to be in both the near and distant future. For adopted adolescents and adopted teens, these issues can be significantly complicated by questions, concerns and related challenges related to their adoption.

Questions that may not have bothered adoptive children in the past can take on new meaning during the teen years, when these adopted youth are actively working to define themselves and differentiate themselves from their parents.

"Why do you look different from your mom and dad?"

"What happened to your birth parents?"

“Don’t ever you wonder who you really are?”

These and other questions can cause significant confusion and frustration to adopted children, adopted adolescents, adopted teens and even young adults who had been adopted earlier in their lives.  As is the case with all young people, questions about who they are, where they fit in, and how they can distinguish themselves can weigh heavily on the minds of adopted youth.

Left unaddressed, these concerns (along with issues of attachment, separation and grief that adopted youth often struggle with) can raise the risk that the adopted adolescent or adopted teen will experience anxiety, low self-esteem, poor self-image, depression and related problems.

In their book, Beneath the Mask: Understanding Adopted Teens, Debbie Riley and Dr. John Meeks reveal that though only 2 percent of American children are adopted, they make up one-third of the teens in therapy. The statistics support their thesis that children endure a special set of emotional issues that reemerge during adolescence.

Unless parents, teachers therapists and other caregivers understand and deal with the many psychological issues that can impact the healthy development of adopted adolescents and adopted teens, these adopted youth will have a more difficult time making the transition into healthy adulthood.

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