Adoption Parenting: Teenage Years Part 3

This information was taken directly from Child Welfare Information Gateway

Preparing Your Teenager for Adulthood

An important part of parenting teenagers is creating the conditions in which they can master adult tasks and take on greater independence.

Mastering adult tasks


Teenagers need time to gradually learn and practice adult life skills, such as finding a job, managing finances, doing laundry, preparing meals, driving a car, and arranging medical appointments. Some adopted teens need extra time, attention, and encouragement to learn adult tasks. They may not be ready for adult responsibilities at the same age as their peers. Help your child learn to be comfortable with his or her own situation and abilities.

Teens who experienced unstable living situations may not be ready to live away from their families until well past the teen years, even if they are developmentally able. Some may choose to live at home and attend a local community college rather than go to a university where they would need to live on campus. Some adopted teens have even experienced sudden drops in their grades as graduation approached, due to fears about having to leave home before they feel ready.

Teens with learning delays or disabilities will require extra time and effort to learn adult life skills. They may need to experiment with alternatives and adjustments for skills—such as driving—that are not within their reach.

What you can do:

  • Teach and re-teach your teens adult life skills (balancing a checkbook, paying off a credit card balance, cooking, laundry, car maintenance, making doctor appointments, etc.). Provide abundant opportunities for supervised practice.
  • If you adopted your child as a teen, check to see if they are eligible for any of the State’s Independent Living services.
  • Check with your teen’s school about any transition services the district may provide.
  • Explore substitutes or assistance for skills that are not manageable. Your family is the best judge of when your teenager is ready to partially or fully manage adult tasks.

Leaving home: Independent versus interdependent living

Very few young adults are ready for full “independent” living. We all need ongoing support and encouragement from family as we learn to negotiate the adult world. Launching adopted children from the family home brings some unique challenges. “Interdependence” rather than “independence” is a more fitting goal for young adults as they venture into the world.

What you can do:

  • Explain how you will help your teen move into adult life. Teenagers need to know how long they can live at home and whether or not their parents will help them with their first apartment rental, pay college tuition, keep them on the family health insurance, etc.
  • Base your support and expectations on your child’s abilities, level of emotional security, and history—and not on their chronological age or what their peers are doing.
  • Provide ongoing emotional and tangible support even after your young adult moves out of your home. Parents who visit frequently, assist with household management, help to fill out tax forms, and so on help young adults not feel too overwhelmed as they adjust to life away from the family.

Special considerations for youth with disabilities

Under Federal law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, by the time a special education student reaches age 16, the school is to provide a plan that may include help obtaining further education, getting a job, or living independently. Parents need to advocate for these services. Communicate respectfully, clearly, and often with your school’s “transition coordinator” about your child’s transition plan.

Seeking Help for Mental Concerns


For many adopted persons, growing up in an adoptive family involves some additional complications and challenges. Adoption issues may come up episodically throughout an adoptee’s life, as well as throughout the lives of the birth parents and adoptive parents. (See the box about core issues in adoption, on page 6.) An occasional session with a counselor or therapist who is skilled with adolescents and knowledgeable about adoption issues, when needed, may be helpful. However, unless there is an urgent need for professional attention, having an adopted peer, a mentor, or a teen adoption support group can also be effective at addressing issues as they arise.

Adolescence is a time when mental health conditions may surface, including some with genetic links. Having a birth parent with a mental illness, such as depression or bipolar disorder, does not mean that your son or daughter will develop this condition, but he or she may be at greater risk.

Signs and symptoms

Adoptive parents should learn the signs that can indicate when to seek a professional opinion (medical or psychiatric). These include:

  • Extreme moods or emotions. The teenager is:
    • Angry, sad, or depressed much of the time
    • Extremely fearful or anxious
    • Withdrawn or apathetic
  • Risky or out of control behaviors, including:
    • Self injury
    • Harmful sexual activity
    • Eating disorders
  • Substance abuse. The teenager:
    • Shows sudden and unexplained changes in physical appearance (such as red watery eyes, rapid change in weight)
    • Experiences physical symptoms (changes in appetite, vomiting, tremors)
    • Has unexplained changes in behavior, mood, attitude, or personality traits
    • Loses interest in hobbies or friends once enjoyed
    • Shows unexplained changes in school performance
  • Anger management or relationship problems. The teenager:
    • Shows extreme anger or aggression with peers
    • Finds family interactions stressful
    • Avoids family members and friends
    • Has inappropriate peer relationships
    • Has no friends (is a “loner”)

Risky behaviors might be an acting-out of inner turmoil. Adopted teens may be at increased risk for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, as well as for eating disorders, due to previous abuse or neglect. Depression, anxiety, or relationship problems might indicate posttraumatic stress syndrome due to earlier maltreatment. Childhood trauma does not resolve itself; it needs to be treated by a qualified mental health provider.

Finding the right person to help

Postadoption programs, adoption support groups, and other adoptive parents can be good resources for information about local mental health professionals. Look for a therapist or counselor who:

  • Has experience working with youth and families
  • Is knowledgeable about adoption
  • Understands any special needs your teen might have (attachment issues, medical conditions, learning disabilities, etc.)
  • Includes the entire family in at least some of the therapy sessions
  • Makes clear to the child that he or she is not “the problem”

For more information about life after adoption, visit the Help for Families (Postadoption Services) section of the Information Gateway website:


Despite the challenges, raising adopted teenagers can be very rewarding. With clear communication, supervision, guidance, and support, parents can help their teenagers prepare for healthy, happy, and productive adulthoods. Parents who respect their teens’ histories and birth families will foster strong and lasting relationships with their young adult sons and daughters.

Return to Adoption Parenting: Teenage Years Part 2 or Adoption Parenting


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