Teenage Years: Helping Your Teenager Communicate with Others About Adoption

This was taken directly from Child Welfare Information Gateway

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Being adopted can affect peer interactions. Teens are capable of more sophisticated understanding and discussions about adoption, but they can be quite narrow in their judgments. It is common for teens to believe that “giving up” a baby for adoption is wrong, for example. Similarly, people who have no personal experience with adoption can at times make unintentionally hurtful comments. A teen whose adoptive status is obvious due to being of a different race or ethnicity from his or her family may encounter innocent questions or even judgmental comments from peers.

Adoption issues may also arise in the context of school, where the majority of many teens’ peer relationships occur. Parents have less involvement in their children’s schools in the later grades than they did early on. It becomes the responsibility of the teens to decide if they want to bring up the subject of adoption in their classes. They may even ask their teachers to include adoption in the academic curriculum (for example, in biology, genetics, or family life classes). The parents’ role is to raise the topic and ask if their teens want coaching on how to advocate for themselves with school personnel.

'What you can do:’

  • Help prepare your teen for these issues to arise. If your son or daughter is newly adopted, classmates will want to know about those circumstances. Help teens anticipate potential questions and practice how they could respond.
  • Help your teen understand that personal family information does not have to be shared with schoolmates. He or she should decide in advance what and how much to tell. Having a prepared “cover story” (a version of his or her story that is true but very limited in detail, to use when your teen does not choose to share more personal information) is not dishonest; it is learning to set healthy boundaries about how much and with whom to share. For example, “My first parents couldn’t take care of me, so now I live with my new parents.”
  • Help your child avoid being a “spokesperson” for adoption, unless he or she wants and is prepared for that role. Some adopted students have taken great pride in researching many aspects of adoption, writing in-depth papers, or making class presentations. Your teen should feel free to say, “I don’t know about that” or “I’m not an adoption expert,” when asked general questions about adoption.

Continue to Teenage Years: Disciplining Effectively or return to Adoption Parenting

Resources

Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2009). Parenting Your Adopted Teenager. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.