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The Emotional Impact of Adoption & Adolescence

In an effort to assure our adopted children that they’re not “outsiders” in our families or our communities, we often make an extra point of emphasizing that adopted children are "just like any other child."

But regardless of the good intentions behind these declarations, adopted children and adoptive parents know that's not necessarily true – especially when an adopted child becomes an adopted adolescent.

On top of the usual slate of "typical" teen and adolescent issues surrounding a child's passage to adulthood, adopted adolescents (even those who were adopted in infancy or when they were very young children) are also very likely to experience a unique set of emotional struggles. On a related not, adoptive parents are also likely to struggle with questions about how best to support and guide their adopted adolescent through such a challenging time.

A question of identity

Significant research suggests that children who were adopted as infants may not begin to question their role in their family (or become curious about their natural identity) until they enter adolescence. This makes sense, as adolescence is typically a time of striving to define oneself, of questioning who one is and what one’s purpose is.

However, as adopted children begin to experience the physical and emotional changes that almost every child experiences during adolescence, they may find that they also begin to discover previously unrealized emotional issues related to their adoption.

Changing attitudes & behaviors

Even if an adopted child has previously appeared to be happy and “well adjusted,” it is not uncommon for adopted adolescents to begin to experience feelings of grief, loss, abandonment, rejection and even guilt or shame.

If your adopted adolescent or adopted teen begins to express these types of feelings, it's important to understand that this may be a sign that deeper emotional concerns over adoption may be surfacing in your teen.

Grief and anger

Grief, for instance, is a fundamental part of the adoption process, and while it may take years for your adopted child to recognize or fully deal with grief, it's only natural that while your adopted child may enjoy a great deal of happiness as part of your family, your adopted child has also "lost" his or her own natural parents and family.

It's also normal for your adopted adolescent or adopted teen to feel angry or to feel that he/she was rejected or abandoned by his/her birth parent as a result of being adopted. As a parent, you may understand or sympathize with the birth parent's decision to allow the adoption of your child -- but as an adolescent, your child may need time and support to come to terms with the adoption.

Of course, any behaviors by adopted adolescents or adopted teens that seem to indicate issues more serious than "typical teen" behaviors (for example, significant withdrawal from family and peer groups, loss of interest in favorite activities, drastic change in social group, considerable decline in academic performance) should be closely monitored and brought to the attention of a counselor, therapist or other appropriate professional.

Getting help

Depending upon the specific needs of your adopted child, helping your adopted teen or adopted adolescence deal with these emotional issues may take a variety of formats. For some adopted adolescents or adopted teens, attending outpatient counseling or participating in an ongoing adoption support group may be the answer.

For other adopted adolescents and adopted teens, a more formal support system – including enrolling in a private boarding school that is prepared to address the unique personal, social and academic challenges facing adopted children – may give your adopted adolescent or adopted teen the best chance of growing into a happy, healthy and well adjusted adult.


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