How to Talk About Adoption with Your Teenager (ages 13-17)

Adolescence is a crucial period of life that involves major development physically, mentally, and emotionally. There are many changes and adjustments happening during these teen years. They are just beginning to establish who they are in the world. At the same time, their world is growing into a more complicated place. Their education, relationships, and personal growth are all in a state of flux – and the rush of hormones is a completely different battle!

At this time of your child’s life, he or she is beginning to develop more complex emotions, as well as grasp onto more complicated concepts, like the meaning of adoption in his/her life. At this age, your teen is also likely to seek out more in-depth conversations regarding his or her birth parents.

For adoptive parents, this can feel like an overwhelming time. It is important to take each phase of development as it comes, and with as much honesty and openness as possible. Always be prepared for the serious talks and know that the questions your teen is asking are completely normal – and healthy. Teenagers are at a stage of self-discovery. Your child might need answers (about his or her biology, birth siblings, ethnicity, etc.) in order to form an identity and fuller sense-of-self. Think of these answers – whether they be details about the birth parents, or the reasons behind their choice – as missing puzzle pieces that your child needs to feel complete.

We understand it may be hard not to still look at your growing teen as your sweet, little baby. Try to remember that he or she has made great leaps and strides in maturity over the years, and can now handle some more sensitive information about his/her adoption story.

It is also important to remember that an open and honest approach will be best for your child in the long run. No matter their background, adolescents often struggle with self-esteem issues. Having a parent to trust is important for your child’s level of comfort and self-confidence as he or she grows. If your teen knows that you are in his/her corner, you will certainly see a boost in self-esteem.

While it is important to use age-appropriate adoption language in conversations with your teen, you should not avoid sharing tough information – drugs, rape, legal troubles – as a way to protect your child. This will only make the truth harder to share later in life. Hiding the difficult details can also set a child up to fantasize about his or her birth parents, which can cause greater disappointment and pain down the road. Be honest, but also be mindful of your tone and the way you frame your answers. If the birth parents had issues with substance use, for example, you might explain that your teen’s birth parents may have gotten involved with drugs or other problems a long time ago – not because they were bad people.

While you want to share as much information with your teen as possible, you should always be considerate, compassionate, and respectful when talking about his or her birth parents. Remind your child that his/her birth mother did the best she could in a time of crisis and that, by making an adoption plan, she was able to plan for your child’s life. She always had your best interest at heart. Ensure your teen that adoption is not an easy or quick decision, but one made with great love and thought. If you are in an open adoption arrangement, you may also consider involving the birth mother in some of these more difficult conversations.

You can also take these difficult conversations and turn them into great bonding time with your child. Ask for his or her opinion on something when the truth is less than glamorous. Try something like, “How do you think your birth parents felt when they went through that?” This serves a dual purpose. For one thing, it gives your teen a boost in self-confidence. It shows them that their voice matters, and that you care about their thoughts and feelings. It also helps them think about the situation from an empathetic standpoint.

Teenagers are working hard to “find themselves” throughout this emerging phase of life. As a parent, you can provide your son or daughter with honest answers, help your teen feel more confident in his or her adoption story, and help your teenager feel prouder talking about it. You are literally helping your child shape his/her own perspective and personality, and ultimately become an adult. Parenting is a pretty cool job, and you are the one who gets to do it!

Adoptions With Love can help you, too. We always have staff members ready to chat about these complicated, and often emotional, moments. If you would like to learn more about talking to teens about adoption, please download our free guide, “Explaining Adoption to Your Child” below. If you would like to learn about our active Search and Reunion program for adopted teens and their families, please reach out to us at 1-800-722-7731.


Leave a Reply