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Section 3
Birth Family Thoughts for Adolescents (Part 1)

Question 3 | Test | Table of Contents

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In the last section, we discussed Explaining Adoption from Ages Eight to Twelve.  This included, first, the preadolescent's perception of adoption; second, even if they're not talking, they're thinking about birth parents; third, the "Acknowledging the Birth Parents" technique; and fourth, letting children know they can love two sets of parents.

In this section, we will discuss Explaining Adoption from Ages Twelve to Fifteen.  This will include the early teen's perception of adoption, the "Allowing Control" technique and the "Being prepared for anger" technique.

♦ Two Important Developmental Tasks
The early adolescent is working on two important developmental tasks, including:
-- 1. identity formation and
-- 2. separation or individuation. 
Both tasks are generally challenging for all young people, and both are impacted by adoption.  Identity formation begins as a youth examines his own roots, questions his beginnings, and begins to experiment with identities different than those of his parents.  The adopted youth may seek to try-on identities different from those of his adopted parents by emulating the identities of his birth parents.  If information about the birth parents is limited, he or she may try-on identities imagined to be like those of the birth parents.  The adolescent may seem to reject the values, customs, religion, and appearances of his or her adoptive family and adopt those codes of conduct of values believed to be held by his or her birth family.

As you know, all young people, some more forcefully than others, demand independence.  The adopted youth has already lost at least one family.  Paradoxically, some adopted youth who are nervous about separation from the adoptive family may actually go overboard during early adolescence, angrily asserting their independence and ranting about wishing they had never been adopted.

♦ The Early Teen's Perception of Adoption
Michael, age 48, came to me about his adopted son, Zach, age 15.  Michael stated, "Zach has always been what you'd call a rebellious kid, and I understand that he's a teenager and probably trying to assert his independence and all that…but last week, he was angry like I've never seen him!  I don't even remember what set him off!  Before I knew it, Zach was screaming at my wife, Stephanie, and I, 'I want to get out of here!  I hate you!  I wish you had never adopted me!  You can't tell me what to do!  You're not my real family!'  It was really intense, and Stephanie burst into tears!  What were we supposed to say to that?!"

I stated, "Let's discuss Zach's perception of adoption.  The second stage of grieving is anger.  Zach is entering this stage of grieving at the same time that he is rejecting your identity and support in asserting his independence.  While adolescence can be an angry period for all young people, it is often even more exaggerated for the adopted person.  Zach is likely confused about the reasons his birth parents abandoned him.  Zach moved from gaining a family to losing a family, to being given away, to arrive at the conclusion, 'I was rejected.'  Zach might be angry about his lack of control in the adoption, and he is probably looking for someone to blame.  You and Stephanie have become the scapegoats for Zach's rage and confusion."

♦ Technique: Allowing Control
I suggested that Michael and Stephanie try the "Allowing Control" Technique.  I stated, "Allowing Zach to exercise control whenever possible and providing opportunities for him to make decisions can help to give him some sense of control."  I explained that it might be necessary for Michael and Stephanie to lose a few battles during this stage in order to win the war.  For example, when engaged in a power struggle with Zach, Michael and Stephanie might need to decide if the issue at hand is really dangerous to Zach or to others.

Being Prepared for Anger - 3 Steps
In addition to Zach's perception of adoption and the "Allowing Control" technique, Michael and I discussed the "Being Prepared for Anger" Technique.  There are three parts to this technique, including not taking it personally, being firm in limit-setting and establishing consequences beforehand.

♦ Step 1 - Don't Take it Personally
First, I encouraged Michael not to take Zach's anger personally.  I stated, "Try to keep from responding to Zach's anger with more anger.  Zach's anger is likely generated by the rejection from his birth parents and not aimed at you.  When Zach says that he wishes he had never been adopted by you and says he wants to leave, he is not saying, 'I am leaving!'  He is asking, 'Will you keep me, no matter what?  Will you abandon me too?'"

♦ Step 2 - Firm Limits
Second, Michael and I discussed being firm in limit-setting.  Have you found, as I have, that some adoptive parents do not feel really entitled to be the parent of their child?  I reminded Michael that he and Stephanie were the only parents Zach had, and it was therefore their responsibility to be firm about Zach's limits to protect his safety.  For example, I stated, "I have found it useful to have only a few rules, but to enforce those rules completely.  You can decide what is important to you, and stick to those rules."

♦ Step 3 - Establish Consequences
Third, we discussed establishing consequences beforehand.  I explained that parents often regret responding to their children's misbehaviors by developing consequences after the problem when they are angry.  Rather, reasonable, logical consequences can be developed when parents are in reasonable, logical states of mind.  I stated, "Once logical consequences have been established, try not to make excuses for Zach or bend on consequences when he tests your authority.  It has been my experience that teens learn from mistakes by experiencing consequences, positive and negative, for their behavior."

In this section, we have discussed Explaining Adoption from Ages Twelve to Fifteen.  This has included the early teen's perception of adoption, the allowing control technique and the being prepared for anger technique.

In the next section, we will discuss late adolescent's perception of adoption, the "Be There" technique and searching for the birth parents.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Cioffi, C. C., Griffin, A. M., Natsuaki, M. N., Shaw, D. S., Reiss, D., Ganiban, J. M., Neiderhiser, J. M., & Leve, L. D. (2021). The role of negative emotionality in the development of child executive function and language abilities from toddlerhood to first grade: An adoption study. Developmental Psychology, 57(3), 347–360.

Farr, R. H., Bruun, S. T., & Simon, K. A. (2019). Family conflict observations and outcomes among adopted school-age children with lesbian, gay, and heterosexual parents. Journal of Family Psychology, 33(8), 965–974.

Grotevant, H. D., Wrobel, G. M., Fiorenzo, L., Lo, A. Y. H., & McRoy, R. G. (2019). Trajectories of birth family contact in domestic adoptions. Journal of Family Psychology, 33(1), 54–63.

Kim, A. Y., Kim, O. M., Hu, A. W., Oh, J. S., & Lee, R. M. (2020). Conceptualization and measurement of birth family thoughts for adolescents and adults adopted transnationally. Journal of Family Psychology, 34(5), 555–565. 

Klahr, A. M., McGue, M., Iacono, W. G., & Burt, S. A. (2011). The association between parent–child conflict and adolescent conduct problems over time: Results from a longitudinal adoption study. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 120(1), 46–56.

Leathers, S. J., Falconnier, L., & Spielfogel, J. E. (2010). Predicting family reunification, adoption, and subsidized guardianship among adolescents in foster care. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 80(3), 422–431.

QUESTION 3
What are the three parts of the Being Prepared for Anger Technique? To select and enter your answer go to Test.


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