When Your Teen Starts to Date

As teens enter the dating game, new issues will arise. Here's how parents can tackle them.

Adoption and teenage years

Most teenagers find the prospect of dating to be exciting, intriguing — and daunting. But for adolescent adoptees, the experience can be even more complex. As an interest in boys (or girls) heightens, an adopted teen may wonder: What kind of relationship did my birth parents have? Did my birth father respect my birth mother? Was my birth the result of a one-night stand? Should I share my adoption story with my boyfriend? Could I date someone who is African-American, like me, even though I grew up in a white family?

Each of these questions is intricately connected to teens’ identity development, and the answers you provide can move them toward healthy personal relationships. As parents, we must guide our teenagers as they go on their journey — and sometimes that means sharing aspects of their adoption story that have previously seemed too negative or overwhelming to reveal.

Whom Do I Date?

Transracially adopted teens deal with yet another layer of complexity — exploring their racial heritage and identity. An Asian teen, for example, may choose to connect with Asian peers to see how, or if, he fits in. He needs to know whether they’ll accept him or if he’ll feel bonded to them, even if they don’t share the same cultural values, customs, or language.

As a teen’s interest in her racial heritage grows, she may begin to feel awkward with her peers, and possibly even with her parents. Parents of transracially adopted teens often need to re-examine their own racial attitudes and biases. Do you have any hidden prejudices and stereotypes? Talk with your teen about how she views herself and how she thinks the outside world perceives her. Affirm the fact that racism exists in our society and provide her with strategies for coping. Take a moment to walk in your teen’s shoes, and give her permission to explore her racial identity.

All teens will eventually play the dating game. Along the way, adoption can create challenges that can be overcome. As parents, let’s make sure our teens understand the rules, and have someone to talk to when their hearts are uplifted or broken.

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