When Your Teen Uses Adoption As a Weapon

Sometimes teenagers use their words to purposely try to hurt their parents — and an adopted teen is no exception.

Adopted teens can sometimes pick fights

When an adopted teen doesn’t get his way, he may pull out the old “You don’t love me because I’m adopted!” weapon. That’s the one that also causes a child to claim “My real mom would let me go camping,” as a way of guilt-tripping adoptive parents. How should you counter these jabs?

You’ll want to remember that, in the heat of the moment, even adults say things they don’t mean. The anger of a thwarted teen can erupt suddenly and intensely. Teens are so consumed with gaining independence and proving they are capable that they sometimes speak rashly. At the same time, these “fighting words” may reflect an adopted teen’s underlying fear that he is, in fact, unlovable.

Conversation Starters

You might start your conversation like this: “I’m guessing that you are really upset with me. Are you disappointed and frustrated or just angry?” Although an upset teen may not immediately express gratitude for your willingness to listen, most appreciate that you are trying to understand.

Mirroring a youngster’s feelings in a respectful, tentative way also helps you keep your cool. Don’t engage in the power struggle your child may be working to create. Giving a teen an invitation to share his feelings keeps things neutral without your having to judge his feelings. It also paves the way for later discussion, when emotions are calmer, about why he lashed out.

Even the most secure adopted teen may struggle with whether she really belongs to and with her adoptive family. Her angry words may actually be a plea for reassurance that you still love and are committed to her, despite conflicts. A child may worry that she was loved and accepted only when she was young, cute, and easily managed.

With this in mind, you may want to reopen discussion a few days or hours after hurtful words are hurled. “When you were angry, one of the things you said was… and I’d like to talk with you about that. I want you to know that, no matter how much conflict there is between us, I will always love you. Some teens wonder whether their parents are still glad that they adopted them. I wonder whether that’s the case with you. I also want you to know that it is normal and fine with me that you sometimes think about your birth parents as your other real parents. Lots of adoptees think of them when their feelings are intense.”

Express Yourself

After discussing these issues with your teen, express your own feelings. “I realize that you were upset and probably needed to hear me say once again that I will always be your mom/dad. Your words hurt though, and I’m hoping that you are ready to take some of the sting out of them.” Many teens will apologize, once they have been “heard” and their concerns have been addressed. Others may not be mature enough to acknowledge their loyalty, so you just may have to wait.

The teen years are really not the end of parenting — they are the beginning of a new chapter in which your relationship with your son or daughter will be reworked in more positive, committed ways. It’s later that the apology may come!


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