The teen years can wreak havoc on families. Understandably, so. There’s so much packed in — the emotional turmoil, surging hormones, academic pressures, expectations  — I could go on and on. The stakes are high, the future looms and every decision counts. It’s a critical juncture for adoptive parents and adopted teens.

As a psychotherapist, I’ve seen and known hundreds of adopted teens and have had the privilege of learning more about them than they usually share in their everyday life. And, as an adoptee, I’ve lived it. It’s an incredibly vulnerable time!

What I’ve learned from them:

  1. Whether they are “attractive” or not is critical. As parents, I think we forget how gut-wrenching appearance is during teen hood. It matters a lot. Parents often come to me saying, “I think she’s gorgeous, but it doesn’t matter how many times I say it,” or “he looks fine, but he doesn’t think he measures up.” That’s true. What you think is not as important as what they think. It will take more than encouragement to help them through that. It will take rewinding back to the feelings that many adoptees face – fear of rejection, low self-worth and difficulty trusting others.
  2. Contemplating adulthood feels like jumping off a cliff. There’s a moment in this documentary film, “Winged Migration,” in the Arctic, a mother bird was pushing her baby bird off of a cliff with the water way way down below. A moment later, you see the little bird bobbing along contentedly. That’s what it feels like for adopted teens except that we’re not naturally equipped to bounce back from such a drastic situation. For many adopted teens, the idea of being an adult is unfathomable. Why? Well, a few reasons. One is that they don’t have the information that their non-adopted peers do about who they could become. Another reason is that they’re not prepared to handle the stresses of adulthood because they never had any practice! Developing a sense of responsibility and being accountable takes time. It doesn’t just happen.
  3. Their peers are hugely impactful, for better or worse! While adoptive parents are talking about their teen’s school failure and anger outbursts at home, what do you think the teen is talking about in therapy? Yes, that’s right, their peers. There are so many stories that accrue throughout the day, once I’ve established a rapport, all I have to ask is, “What happened?” and we’re on our way. Also, don’t be too critical of their peers in their presence, because deep-down, they worry that you feel the same way about them. They’re not just defending their peers actions, they’re defending their own. That’s why they get so stirred up.

If you’d like to talk more about this, please join our group for parents of adopted teens, online and local!




The teen years are the hidden gem of childhood. Don’t get me wrong. These years can try even the most veteran of adoptive parents. They’re emotionally exhausting, stressful, scary