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Section 4
Birth Family Thoughts for Adolescents (Part 2)

Question 4 | Test | Table of Contents

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

In this section, we will discuss Explaining Adoption from Ages Sixteen to Nineteen.  This will include the late adolescent's perception of adoption, the "Be There" technique and searching for the birth parents.

Late adolescents are preparing to leave the family.  They will soon emancipate, or live independently.  Emancipation, like many life transitions, involves loss.  For example, this involves loss of dependency and childhood, loss of life with the family and loss of the familiar and safe.  While emancipation presents a stressful challenge to most young adults, the losses associated with independence are even more threatening to the adopted young person.

Many adolescents begin to have their first experiences with romantic intimacy between the ages of sixteen and nineteen.  The older adolescent is ready for a relationship with more depth and commitment.  Older teens, threatened by the loss of intimacy they experience when emancipating from their family, often turn to a romantic involvement as a replacement for that lost intimacy.  Romantic relationships during late adolescence, especially for youth needing assurance that they are lovable, can become extremely intense.

Many adolescents between the ages of sixteen and nineteen have their first experiences with sexuality.  Adolescents are often faced with value conflicts related to religious, family, and cultural beliefs about morality as they approach their first sexual encounters.  Adopted youth who perceive their birth parents as sexually irresponsible or promiscuous will have even greater challenges as they become involved in romantic relationships.

2 Aspects of Adoption for Ages 16-19

♦ #1 Late Adolescent's Perception of Adoption
Elaine, age 50, came to me about her adopted son Justin, age 19. 

Elaine stated, "As soon as Justin turned 18, he moved in with his girlfriend Allison.  At that time, they had been dating for a year, and now they've been dating for two years.  My husband Dan and I hardly saw Justin at all, he was so absorbed with Allison!  I wasn't sure how healthy it was  for Justin to move in with Allison so soon, but I figured he was an adult now, and we couldn't stop him.  Anyway, Justin proposed to Allison recently, after they had been dating these two years.  Allison didn't just turn him down, she pretty much ran away from the house!  She took everything but the dog!  Well, Justin is absolutely devastated…he came to our door sobbing, and has taken up residence in his old room again…he's barely come out to eat for three days now!  I'm afraid to leave him home alone!"
I stated, "It is quite common for adopted youth to be fearful of intimacy or to feel unlovable.  This fear of close personal relationships is often expressed through avoidance, though sometimes, as in Justin's case, it is expressed through over-involvement in romantic relationships and sexuality.  Sometimes this involvement happens before the individual is mature enough to handle the consequences of that decision.  Since Justin's relationship ended so abruptly, this might feel very much like another abandonment to him.  Justin might feel this is somehow a confirmation that he is unworthy of love."

Technique: Be There
I explained that Justin was in the depression stage of grieving.  I suggested that Elaine and Dan try the "Be There" Technique. 

I stated, "You might want to encourage Justin to stay at your home as long as he needs to.  He may need to feel in control of the timing of his departure from the nest, especially since he chose to leave so quickly before, possibly before he was ready."  Further, I suggested that Elaine and Dan be alert for signs of serious depression, especially since Justin seemed to have withdrawn into his own world. 

Without hovering, Elaine and Dan could be observant of Justin's continued struggle for independence, and continue to be available for guidance, support and reassurance where needed.  Since Justin was already on the threshold of adulthood, there was very little else for Elaine and Dan to do for Justin without him asking for it.

♦ #2 Searching for the Birth Parents
Elaine asked, "A second issue that has come up with Justin is the discussion of whether or not he wants to search for his birth parents.  Dan and I have asked Justin if he wants to get in contact with his birth parents, and so far he has said no.  I still think he's unsure, however.  Is it appropriate for Dan and I to help him find his birth parents?"

At 19, Justin was probably anxious about growing up and leaving home.  Losing his adoptive family by moving out or going to college probably felt like a reenactment of the earlier abandonment by his birth family.  While connections to his adopted family would remain after emancipation, Justin likely experienced a permanent termination of his relationship to the birth family when the adoption occurred.  In other words, the last time he lost a family, it was forever.

I stated to Elaine, "As Justin has just approached legal adulthood, he might feel conflicted about beginning a search.  In my experience, it is common for adopted youth to fear a second rejection by their birth families as disloyal or hurtful.  Some adopted youth may feel pressure from peers, the media or family to search or not search.  And, as you suggested, some adoptive parents, in an attempt to be helpful, may even initiate a search for the birth family.  However, Justin will probably appreciate feeling in control of a second search for members of his birth family.  If a reunion is thrust upon him before he is ready for this relationship, some emotional damage could be done." 

I further explained that as an adopted child, Justin had already experienced a tremendous loss of control in the original termination of birth-parental rights.  For this reason, Justin might feel the need to maintain control over any reestablishment of a connection to his birth family.  Only he could know if, and when, he would be ready for such a relationship.

In this section, we have discussed Explaining Adoption from Ages Sixteen to Nineteen.  This has included late adolescent's perception of adoption, the "Be There" technique and searching for the birth parents.

In the next section, we will discuss Trigger Times for Grief in Adopted Children.  This will include birthdays, Mother’s Day, the recognition technique, moving, and the "control in a small way" technique.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
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.

Levy, I., & Eckhaus, E. (2020). Rape narratives analysis through natural language processing: Survivor self-label, narrative time span, faith, and rape terminology. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 12(6), 635–642.

Messina, R., & Brodzinsky, D. (2020). Children adopted by same-sex couples: Identity-related issues from preschool years to late adolescence. Journal of Family Psychology, 34(5), 509–522.

Why do adopted children often wish to be in control of a search for their birth parents? To select and enter your answer go to Test.

Section 5
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