Preparing for the Placement
Adopting an adolescent means that your serious struggles are far shorter than the twenty-plus years you must devote to an infant. Of course, you also miss out on the cute stages that nature provided to cushion against what many people think of as a terrible time of life.
Find out all you can about the adolescent period of growth, because current research has revealed some fascinating information about how your child's brain develops at this age, and the fact that many behaviors exhibited at this age are biologically driven.
Like most people, you probably never gazed into your spouse or partner's eyes and said, “Let's have a teenager” instead of “Let's have a baby.” Adoptive teens are given a bad rap, though. In the opinion of most experts, given good parenting, even if it's long delayed, most teens turn into reasonably good and happy people. Human children are remarkably resilient; those who spend eleven, thirteen, or sixteen years bouncing back and forth between dysfunctional families and foster homes can make great progress when they finally attain parents who love and want them. In reality, adopting a teen involves much less physical and emotional effort than adopting younger children. Teens also have the cognitive ability to understand the difference between good and bad families.
You should know that adolescent brains have only a slight capacity for logical thought. Studies like those published in
More and more frequently, public and private agencies are urging the adoption of children over ten, especially teens who will age out of the system when they turn eighteen. Behavioral scientists and therapists such as Dr. David Walsh, therapist and research expert into adolescent brain function and author of
You should know that, in many ways, your teen has much in common with a toddler. She lives in the moment and operates almost completely on emotion. In addition, her brain is awash in the hormones that are turning her into an adult.
Plus, your child is much bigger than a toddler and cannot be restrained physically very easily. Your challenge will be to provide the nurturing and boundaries your teen requires to allow her brain to reconnect and to finish changing into an adult.
In addition to the normal changes and stresses of adolescence, your adopted teen's struggles may be more intense, because of her dual identities: she's been defined by her birth family and is now transitioning into yours.
Teens always challenge their parents to varying degrees; such behavior is psychologically necessary for establishing an independent adult identity and is not caused by adoption. Be aware that adoption may be one of the reasons your teen uses to explain his frustrations and disagreements with you, or his feelings of alienation and loneliness. As in any developmental stage, adoption can be a layer of the problem that a teen is facing.
An adopted teen may in fact be easier to deal with than other teens. Organizations such as the Adoption Institute, the Ad Council in partnership with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and AdoptUsKids have initiated a campaign encouraging adoption of teens. They assert that adopted children in their mid-teens are less likely to indulge in rejecting behavior than biological children or children adopted as infants. Your daughter will know, unless she has severe psychological problems, the importance of a stable family and will probably give you far less trouble than the teen children of your friends!
Adding a new member to your family is cause for celebration. Just how you celebrate will be defined by several factors:
How long she's waited for a family
Your family's culture
If your child is eleven or twelve (give or take a year or two), consider throwing a family party, complete with decorated cake, party favors, and presents. Hang a banner with the words “Welcome to the Jones Family” and place it over the front door or in the yard, if appropriate.
Because your teen will feel unsure at first, mark the first month, six months, and then every year thereafter with a celebration. Develop a tradition around the “Placement Day.” Sing to her, hide presents around the room, put a notice in the local newspaper, or let her pick all the foods for dinner. Repeating these activities in the same way, over time, will do much to forge family ties.
Your older teen may want something more adult and restrained — perhaps keeping the banner indoors — but she'll still like gifts! Consider your family's culture; if you generally make a fuss over birthdays, graduations, and holidays, do the same for celebrating the arrival of a teen. Having fun together is a basic bonding activity for all families and is especially important in adoption.
For example, when Amy was adopted at age twelve, her parents held a placement celebration with their friends and family and important people to Amy, including her counselor, social worker, guardian ad litem, and foster family. Her new dad promised to be a loving father and to protect and provide for her. Her new mom also made similar promises and gave Amy gifts that represented those promises: a quilt, a charm bracelet with charms that represented certain things from her past, and an original poem.