As your child enters the teen years, he will see his adoption and his larger identity in a new, more complex way. An adoption support group can provide a safe and comfortable venue for much of this exploration. Simply being around others who have a similar history will normalize an adopted teen’s experiences, though the group members will probably end up discussing sensitive topics.
“I always felt I was the only one who ever wondered what it would be like to meet my birth mother,” says Keisha, 13. “What a relief to find that other kids thought about this, too” Fourteen-year-old Rene said he felt empowered, and less alone, when hearing other teens’ stories. “Many of the kids in my group struggled with why they were placed for adoption. I was confused and angry, too. But the group helped me figure it all out.”
Finding and Joining a Group
Find a group by asking your adoption agency, a parent support group in your area (search the Adoptive Families’ directory), or any other adoptive parents you know.
Teen support groups usually meet once a week, for up to two hours, for eight to 10 weeks, and are often facilitated by trained adoption therapists. Ideally, they should consist of seven to eight members, include both boys and girls, and involve teens of different adoption backgrounds. (Parents sometimes want their teens to attend a group that mirrors their adoption route or country of origin, and look for a group for teens adopted from foster care, or from China. But therapists have found that the richness of a heterogeneous group is preferable.)
Talk typically focuses on topics of importance to all adolescents–friendships, relationships, dating, and sexuality–as well as on adoption issues. Before signing up your teen, you may want to speak with the facilitator to determine whether the group will be right for him.
If your teenage resists the idea of joining, he may be persuaded to meet with the therapist beforehand to learn what the format of the group will be like, which topics will be discussed, and the types of teens who will be there. This might encourage him to try a session or two. He may also want to talk with someone who attends the group or someone who has recently participated in one.
There’s been a lot of discussion in the adoption community about teenagers using the Internet to search for birth family. But the Internet also provides adopted teens with a way to connect with other adoptees all over the globe. These connections can fill in some of the missing pieces as they strive to form their identity.
Online connections can help our teens figure out who they are. Facebook, blogs, and other social media let teens choose the image they want to show the world. The introspection and self-examination involved in creating profiles and writing about themselves can help our teens solidify their identities.
Talking with people who truly understand you is healthy. Michael, 17, says he goes to chat rooms when he needs to vent and to figure things out. “My friends at school don’t understand that, sometimes, I feel different from my family…like I don’t belong. Connecting with adopted teens who feel the same way helps me. It helps me get past being bummed, so I can appreciate my parents for the good stuff they do.