Being a teenager is just plain hard. These years are full of jolting twists and turns. If you’re an adopted teen, the path will probably have additional zigs and zags. The teenage years is a time of change, exploration, and self-discovery. On paper, that sounds fair enough. Put into practice, it can look and feel pretty scary.

As adoptive parents, it’s important to guide your teen while also giving them the space they need. Learning how you can better understand when your teen needs extra support and when they might need some space is critical. 

Understanding the Teen Struggle

The teen years bring about a wild whirlwind of challenges, from physical changes to the oh-so-fun peer influences and pressures. For adoptees, there’s an additional layer of challenges including questions about their adoption story.

It’s important to recognize that the struggle is universal. Many teens struggle with both adoption-related or standard teenage challenges. But as adoptive parents, your role is to provide a supportive and understanding environment for your teen during what can be a bumpy phase.

Open Up the Channels of Communication

Good communication is the backbone of any healthy relationship—especially during this time. It’s up to you to create an environment where your teen feels comfortable expressing their thoughts and feelings.

This is easier said than done, especially with so many distractions in our lives—for both parent and teen.

You may have to work to initiate conversations about their story and be prepared to listen without imposing your own expectations. Sometimes, providing a supportive presence is all they need.

Find the right way and time to do this. Some parents rely on car rides to and from school or sports to strike up a conversation. It’s also okay to send your teen a text to see if you can get them to emerge from their bedroom to join you in the living room for a face-to-face chat. By meeting them where they are, you will make these conversations more comfortable and less weird.

The Struggle is Real

Be vigilant about recognizing signs that your teen may be dealing with challenges above their pay grade, whether related to adoption or otherwise. Changes in behavior, withdrawal from family activities, declining school performance, or sudden mood swings are all indicators (of something). If you see these signs, approach your teen with empathy and express concern rather than judgment. As a teen, they are already feeling their fair share of that.

Pushing with Empathy

There are going to be times when a gentle push will prove to be beneficial. Encourage your teen to explore their interests, join clubs or sports, or engage in activities or hobbies to promote their personal growth. Gentle pushes from a parent can help them to build confidence and discover (or at least even consider) their passions. However, approach this with sensitivity. In other words, make sure you are guiding and not imposing your will. Nobody likes to feel like they’re being controlled—teens are no exception.

Working Towards Independence

Granting independence is a crucial aspect of a teenager’s development. Allow your teen to make decisions, even if it means making mistakes. This helps them to build a sense of responsibility and independence. Finding the right balance between involvement and giving your teen space is key to their growth.

And, let’s face it, nobody (including a parent) is perfect or doesn’t make mistakes. Failure is how many of us learn. It’s not always pretty, but it’s reality. It’s fine to lead the way and provide direction. Just be careful not to become a helicopter parent in the process.

Responding to Adoption-Related Questions

Adopted teenagers are going to have questions about their identity and biological roots. The question is, will they feel comfortable coming to you for their answers, or will they look for these through friends or online? The reality is that they just may not feel like coming to you about these things. Adolescence is an awkward enough time as it is, and talking about adoption with a parent isn’t always easy.

So, first off, make it known that you are there to listen, judgment-free. You are there to answer as best as you can. You are there to help them to find solutions to whatever challenges they’re facing. Period.

Addressing their questions requires a delicate touch. Provide them with honest and age-appropriate answers, emphasizing that it’s okay not to have all the answers. Acknowledge their curiosity as normal. Encourage a sense of pride in their unique family story. You are in this together. Knowing this, they will feel more comfortable approaching you.

Asking the Professionals

If you find that your teenager is facing challenges beyond your ability to address, don’t hesitate to ask an expert. Therapists specializing in adoption-related issues can offer incredibly valuable insights and strategies that will help. Therapy is not a sign of failure, its a proactive step to making sure your teenager receives the support they need during this critical phase and beyond.

While you may be providing a loving and supportive family environment for your teen, there is no shame in asking for an assist on a subject that is confusing to adoptees (or parents) of all ages.

It’s Okay to Smile, Too

The teenage years are a time of milestones just as significant as that first word and those first steps. Celebrate your teenager’s achievements, whether they are academic, personal, or related to their life outside of your home. This positive reinforcement will help with their self-esteem and strengthen the bond. Remind them you are their biggest cheerleader through it all.

Raising your adopted teenager can be a rewarding journey. It comes chock-full of its own set of challenges and triumphs. The key lies in finding the delicate balance between offering unconditional support and allowing the space necessary for your teen to grow. Remember, this is a chapter, not the entire book, and with love, patience, and communication, you can experience it as a family that grows in love and support.