The teenage years are often difficult for any parent to navigate, and parenting an adopted teenager adds a layer of complexity. By preparing yourself for questions about identity and birth-family history, being open and honest with your teen and disciplining thoughtfully, you are empowering yourself and your teenager as you help prepare her for her adult years.
According to Ellen Singer, a clinical social worker and adoption specialist at the Center for Adoption Support and Education, Inc., the teenage years are a quest for separation from parents and identity formation. Your adopted teen may struggle more deeply with these questions of identity than his non-adopted peers as he considers both his birth family and adoptive family and the role they play in shaping his identity. If he is a different race than his adoptive family or knows very little about his past, he may feel as though he doesn't have a community with which he can identify.
Help Fill in the Gaps
The Child Welfare Information Gateway recommends that adoptive parents give teenagers all the information they have about birth families and the circumstances around the child's placement for adoption. If you do not have access to such information, explore with her what might have occurred -- what were circumstances like in her birth country during the time of her birth? Was her birth mother young? Talk about your child's birth parents with balance and respect, avoiding criticism and judgment.
The American Academy of Pediatrics cautions that some parents are reluctant to discipline an adopted child, fearing that the child will stop loving them. It is your parental duty to help your child grow and mature through discipline. While the focus for adopted teens should always be on attachment and relationship-building first -- especially for children who have suffered from abuse in their past -- discipline can be an effective part of this. If your child suffered from neglect and deprivation, forgo the removal of privileges and activities since this may be a setback to him. Opt instead for a "time-in", where your child is required to spend some quiet time near you at home.
Empower Your Teen
Give your teenager the tools she needs to deal with issues that may arise in school or among her peers because of her adoption. Help your teen anticipate questions that may be directed toward her about her birth family and the circumstances leading to her adoption. Talk through what information she feels comfortable sharing and what she would like to keep private. Give her permission to set boundaries and allow her to practice responses that she can give to others when they ask invasive questions.