Try and think back to when you were a teenager…It was rough wasn’t it? Growing up never seems to be a walk in the park and as a parent sometimes just remembering that can be the first step. A constructive way to parenting adopted teens is to use an understanding of child development as a foundation and then add the layers of adoption, ethnicity and culture. Here are some common obstacles teens struggle with, paired with parenting strategies you may find helpful.
1. As an adolescent, the task of forming an identity moves to the forefront of our minds. Parental authority is questioned and teens often wonder, “who am I?” To help establish a sense of belonging for your teen, parents will have to learn to “decode” the messages. Pay particular attention to statements ending with “…but it’s no big deal.” (Hint: it could be a big deal). Navigating the closeness of the parent-child relationship in a way that offers your teen respect and consideration, may lead to your child being more willing to open up and share with you.
2. Peer influence increases as a child enters the teen years and parental influence decreases. Parents are still important and they should not give up on being influential. It is critical that parents stay involved. A common fear for adolescents can be unattractiveness, leading them to question, “who will love me?” As a parent, you have looked past or not even notice all the little things that your teen may view as flaws, but sometimes the world isn’t always so kind. By widening your own social world it will show your child that you appreciate the challenges they’re facing. Talk and more importantly listen when you ask your child where they feel the most comfortable.
3. Part of asking, “who am I?” can amplify an adoptive teens interest in asking and learning more about their birth parents. As we mentioned, adolescents are preoccupied with physical appearance and identity formation happens by comparing ourselves to others. With a lack of a physical marker, a picture in their mind’s eye of what they’ll look like, they begin to think about, “who are they?” and “who will I become?” This is an understandable question to be curious about. This may be a good time to share more information about your child’s birth parents and to share more frequently as it could open up more conversations for you and your child.
4. Engaging in risky behaviors and considering, “what can I get away with?” is often times part of teen culture. Parents shouldn’t be reluctant to intervene or to be clear on where they stand on these matters. Adoptive parents may fear being told “you’re not my real mother; you can’t tell me what to do,” just as ALL parents fear their teen spitting out the words, “I hate you!” However, as parents it’s your responsibility to talk about your child’s behavior if it contradicts with your family’s values or rules. Discussing these matters early on and often could be beneficial.
5. Adolescents can have a hard time articulating what is going on because their newly formed personal view may lack a solid foundation. Asking “does anyone understand?” doesn’t necessarily mean parents should seek out a therapist, maybe seeking out an older adoptee who could act as a mentor would be the most helpful. Another approach would be just focusing more on listening to your teen, even if you don’t agree because letting your child feel heard can make all the difference.