Adoption and Your Teen’s Mental Health
The impact adoption can have on your teen’s mental health is huge. Even teens adopted by the right family with the best conditions for healthy development will still go through some form of personality changes and/or behaviors because of the transition.
You need to understand their transition and be willing to work with your teen’s individual needs. Adopting a teenager can be difficult because it is hard for them to trust, so it is important the entire family understands how they feel.
The transition to adopting a teenager might make the teen feel like an outsider because they don’t fit in with their parents, siblings, or even themselves (because teenagers try to fit in but can’t). It is important that teens are loved unconditionally and that parents should not expect too much from them until they have settled into the new family.
Learn all that you can
Since your teen is well past childhood, they will have had more than a decade of life experience under their belt. They will have their likes and dislikes, things that annoy them, and certain preferences like food choices. They will also have an entire history in regards to previous homes they might have lived, potential medical concerns, and education experience.
It’s best to try and learn everything you can about your teenager, with respect to their privacy. They are coming into the family as an outsider, so things will feel awkward at first. You should try to get to know as much as you can about your teen prior to adoption and onwards.
It helps to get acquainted with important documents like medical files and vaccination records. You should also see if you can get your teen’s adoption records. Those files will give a great insight into your teen’s original birth parents and where your teen was born.
Your teen may seem standoffish or unwilling to work with you, but they are just testing the boundaries in order to see how much trust they can put in their new parents.
During this period, it is important that parents understand when the teen needs space and when they’re just hiding in their room because they don’t know how to deal with the change. Adoption creates a whirlwind of change in addition to the crazy hormonal changes. Their mental health might struggle due to all their changes, but it’s important to not intrude on your teen’s life constantly. You need to build up trust and let them gradually open up to you if anything’s wrong.
Parents should be wary about giving too much freedom to their adopted teenagers, though. Teens still need stability and structure more than pure freedom at this point in their lives.
Don’t force them to fit in
It is also important that parents do not put too much pressure on their teens to fit in or be part of the family right away.
Trying to force your teen into their new family unit may increase their desire for independence, act defiantly, and make it harder to adjust to new feelings about themselves. This could also lead to an emotional imbalance, which can lead to a wide range of behaviors such as cutting, depression, self-harm, suicide, etc.
Parents need to understand this desire for independence is something teens work through on their own and is not resolved overnight but slowly over time. It can take years before the teen adjusts completely, especially if they’ve experienced trauma in the past.
Overall, adopting a teenager has its ups and downs, just like parenting any other child, but you can help your teen adjust to their new family over time.
It’s not easy, though. However, as a parent to an adopted teen, you owe it to them to help them get assimilated into the family for the sake of your teen’s mental health and the wellbeing of your family.
Read more about a one parent’s experience, The Ballad of an Adopted Child.