Is Your Adopted Teen Isolating, Angry Or Struggling To Connect?

Are you suddenly struggling to connect with your teenager? Has he or she started testing boundaries, acting with anger or aggression or isolating from you? Has your child recently started asking questions about his or her biological parents or become preoccupied with his or her appearance or cultural origin? Are you struggling to maintain boundaries, worried that any conflict may create more distance between you and your teen? Do you feel like you’re walking on eggshells, unsure of what to say or how to communicate to your child how much he or she is loved? Are you constantly trying to help your child feel accepted, but feel that your attempts fail and create more distance and unease?   Do you wonder why now – all of a sudden – your teen is questioning who he or she is, where he or she came from, and pushing away your attempts to demonstrate genuine love and support?

The teenage years are, by definition, a struggle. It’s a time when teens question the world, their place in it and figure out how they are separate individuals from their parents. While all teens struggle with issues of personal and social identity, these issues are almost always more difficult for adopted teens. It’s a natural time for them to ask questions about their biological parents and wonder about the circumstances that led to them being given up. And, it doesn’t matter if your teen was adopted at birth or last week. Regardless of how much you love and support your child, it’s not uncommon for your teenager to feel abandoned, rejected, flawed and unworthy. Your teen may even feel like the adoption was his or her fault. These feelings compound the already challenging social, personal identity, and independence-seeking issues that define the teenage experience. Your teen may be experiencing increased conflicts at school, within peer relationships, struggling with concentration, creating fantasies about his or her biological parents or experiencing depression-like symptoms.

Internal Struggles and Attachment Issues Are Extremely Common For Adopted Teens

The connection and identity issues that your teen is experiencing are very common – in fact, they’re pretty much the norm. Most adopted teens – at some point – question and try to make sense of the circumstances of their adoption. It’s normal for teens to wonder about biological parents and become interested in their cultural heritage – especially if it is different than yours.  It’s also common to experience a disconnection between you and your teen during this time, regardless of how strong and secure your relationship has been in the past. Pushing for space between parent and child is a normal part of teenage development, but it tends to be intensified for adopted teens. It’s likely that your teen’s new thoughts and feelings about his or her adoption may necessitate an examination and reworking of your parent/child relationship. Rather than feeling scary or uncertain, therapy can help you both learn how to navigate new facets of your relationship, which can bring you closer.

Therapy Can Be Extremely Effective For Adopted Teens

Your BPS therapist is highly trained and experienced in counseling for teen adoption issues, and will help your teen identify and address the issues that are causing him or her pain and triggering him or her to withdraw, push boundaries or act out with anger. As your therapist and teen develop a trusting relationship, your teenager will have a safe space in which to explore who he or she is, how he or she fits into family, school and the larger community and what his or her strengths and supports are. Your therapist can help your teenager see choices and opportunities to connect, which they may not have seen before. For adopted teenagers, therapy can be an opening and empowering experience.

In therapy, your teen can work on the self-esteem, abandonment and relationship issues that often come with being adopted. As your teen explores these issues, he or she can learn how to appreciate and celebrate his or her own uniqueness, as well as  both the similarities and the differences between him or herself and his or her family.  These realizations can minimize conflict, begin to break down emotional walls and create stronger connections within your family.

Therapy can be extremely valuable during the teenage years – especially for adopted teens. Learning how to create, navigate and maintain healthy relationship is a skill that your teen can carry throughout life. Your teen can also develop a strong sense of self, healthy coping skills and the ability to connect with others in healthy and meaningful ways. Addressing adoption issues now – which were bound to surface in time anyway – can help lay the groundwork for the emotional and social skills that your child needs to navigate relationships, work, school, and family now and in the future.

But, you still may have questions or concerns…

We think that therapy could help, but are concerned about costs. Adoption is expensive, and we’ve already spent a lot of money.

This is your child’s life and wellbeing. Addressing your teen’s adoption issues now may prevent a host of life-long problems and patterns from occurring as he or she leaves your home and enters adulthood. The investment in your teen’s emotional health may not only address the related identity, relationship and self-esteem issues, but also alleviate future struggles. Almost all adopted teens struggle with feelings of abandonment, and many experience difficulty forming long-term, intimate relationships. Addressing these issues in therapy now can help your teen feel better about his or herself and strengthen the ability to develop lasting, healthy relationships now and throughout his or her life.

Many people come to BPS having worked with other therapists who were not trained to work specifically with adolescent adoption issues or who they or their teen couldn’t relate with – which is a waste of time and money. At BPS, we’ll conduct a increase the likelihood of a good fit, BPS offers an online therapist directory and match your teen with a therapist who is trained and experienced to work with teens and adoption and whose personality is a good match for your child’s. Once you find that good match, making a commitment to your child, yourself and your family may be one of the most valuable investments there is. Imagine everyone in your home feeling and functioning better on a regular basis and ask yourself what that’s worth.

If money still is an issue, you can talk with your BPS therapist to see if they work on a sliding scale. They may also be able to help you find a community resource to help offset cost.

I’m afraid that therapy will shine a light on all the problems and make my child feel even worse.

You may be right. Oftentimes dealing with difficult emotions – in therapy or otherwise – can make teens feel worse before they can feel better. But, your teen can feel better.

The feelings that your child is experiencing now are unlikely to go away on their own and could even worsen if they are not addressed. There are underlying reasons for your child’s emotions and behaviors. Addressing these issues and related feelings in therapy now can help your teen feel better sooner. It can also prevent negative emotional and behavioral patterns from becoming entrenched. The right therapist can help your teenager with the self-awareness and self-esteem issues that most teenagers grapple with, but can be particularly hard for adopted teens. Your BPS therapist can also help your teen develop skills to better understand and navigate close relationships – including your parent/child relationship. Therapy can help your teen learn ways to develop closer and more comfortable relationships and not have to struggle so much now and in the future.

We’ve already tried therapy and it doesn’t seem to have quite worked.

A lot of issues surface for adopted children during the teenage years. Therapy may not have worked in the past because these issues had not been raised yet for your teen. You may have also been working with a therapist who wasn’t a good match for you and your teen.

Regardless, don’t give up. The time to get your child extra support is now. Identity and social issues make the adolescent years very complex, and these complexities can be exaggerated for adopted teens. Having a therapist who understands your teen, is an advocate for your teen, and who your teen trusts can make a big difference is how your teen feels about him or herself and interacts with the world now and in the long-term.

To increase the likelihood of a good fit, BPS offers an online therapist directory which will help you to determine what your teen’s specific issues are and to ensure a good match between you, your teenager and a BPS therapist in terms of personality, style and expertise.

Check out our free, online therapist directory, which will match you and your child with a therapist who has expertise working with teenagers and adoption issues.

BPS therapist Jennifer Key, LCSW helped create the content for this page. Jenny has been working with adolescents, parents and families on adoption issues since 1999. She practices traditional therapy methods, such as psychoanalysis and cognitive behavioral techniques, but has also found that many teenagers experience significant, positive change while interacting with animals. Jenny’s practice includes equine and animal therapies.