Why Race Matters for Teens

Teens need their parents' guidance, especially during adolescence, in forming their racial identity.

A diverse group of teens work on identity formation

My parents were not prepared to raise a child of another race,” says Sarah, 32, adopted transracially in the U.S. “All they had was unconditional love and guts. It was a start, but what they didn’t know hurt us both.”

What did Sarah’s parents not know? They didn’t know that, while race did not matter to them, when Sarah went out into the world, it mattered a lot. That’s why the first, and most important, challenge of transracial parenting is to overcome the tendency to equate unconditional love with being color-blind.

Creating an Identity

The teen years are the time for identity formation. Identity is the basis of self-esteem, and a positive identity helps a young person deal with the world around her. Identity formation involves determining how one is like, and different from, parents, and an adoptee must figure out how he is like, and different from, two sets of parents. Having limited information about birth origins makes the task harder—especially if there are racial elements in the mix. Imagine the additional challenges faced by African-American, Asian, and Hispanic teens who are being raised by white parents.

[Expert Audio: Transracial Adoption—Are We Prepared?]

Parents must learn all that they can about what it is like to walk in their children’s shoes—especially as teens begin to spend time away from the family. What is it like to be the sole minority person in a classroom or at a friend’s party? How does racism manifest itself? What are the positive and negative racial stereotypes that your child will face? Even if you thought about such things before bringing your child home, it’s time to think again. Read books and magazines, research on the Internet, and attend support groups and workshops.

Supporting Your Teen

Caucasian parents raising a child of another race must maintain open communication about their child’s adoption story, the reactions of others to their family, and the positive and negative racial biases in our society. Make your home a place where such topics may be discussed safely, and remember that you may need to be the one who initiates these conversations.

Here are some steps that parents can take to promote their teen’s positive racial identity:

  • Make it a priority to enroll your teen in a multiracial school, and join multiracial religious institutions and other social organizations.
  • Provide opportunities for your teen to interact with role models who share her racial background. Find doctors, tutors, and coaches who share your teen’s heritage.
  • Develop friendships with people of different races, and encourage your teen to develop such friendships, as well.
  • Assume that your teen will face some racist comments and situations, and help her prepare responses to them.
  • Provide your teen with everyday experiences—beyond Chinese New Year or Cinco de Mayo parties—so he will see beyond the stereotypes of what it means to be a member of his race.

[Adopted and Black in Middle America]

Copyright © 1999-2024 Adoptive Families Magazine®. All rights reserved. For personal use only. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.

More articles like this