During the tween years, peer relationships become more important. As children put a premium on time with classmates and friends, they often become less interested in the company of their parents or in family events. Given the choice between a formerly beloved family activity and a sleepover at a friend’s house, most tweens will go for the sleepover in a heartbeat.
When Friendships Change
Children this age need to be liked and accepted — fitting in becomes the driving force in their life. Boys desperately want to be chosen by their peers for a team or playground game. Girls spend countless hours with friends, and are crushed when they discover they’ve been excluded from a confidence or a party.
During this time, friendships that have lasted through childhood shift and change. Children develop at different physical and emotional rates, and this can affect their relationships. For example, a child who is physically undeveloped may feel alienated from a friend who is going through puberty. Or a tween who has acquired an interest in music may have little in common with a friend who still wants to play Barbies or Legos.
When long-held friendships begin to take a turn, adoptees may feel particularly wounded. A child who was rejected by a friend may believe there is something wrong with him, and the rejection can open old emotional wounds. Some adoptees begin to “miss” their biological families, whether or not they have ever met them. Other children may react to a friend’s rejection by becoming angry at absent birth parents.
Adoptees who look different from their families, and most of their peers, face other issues, too. In order to fit in with peers, an adoptee may be reluctant to discuss her adoption story, or to tell new friends she was adopted. Children in transracial families have been known to create improbable tales about their appearance. They may say that they resemble a fictitious relative, or they may not allow new friends to meet family members.
While such behaviors are distressing, parents shouldn’t feel they’ve failed to instill a positive identity in their child. It’s best to continue talking with your tween about adoption, in private, and to present it in a positive light. But if your child feels uncomfortable, don’t bring up adoption (or any other issue that will highlight her differences) when she is around her peers. By crossing this boundary, you risk alienating your tween; and, as a result, she may avoid bringing friends home, for fear of being embarrassed or judged.