Are you considering adopting a teenager?
If you are then it is likely a foster care adoption, stepparent adoption, or a kinship adoption.
Most people don’t think about adopting teens when they think about adoption. Most picture adoption as bringing home a newborn baby wrapped in a swaddling blanket, with a cute little hat, and a fresh baby smell. People think of diapers, bottles, onesies, rattles, and cribs. When you adopt a baby, many will bring you gifts for the new addition, and offer help with food, baby care, or errands. You will be complimented for your choice to adopt, and people will call you an angel or other things meant to be complimentary. You will have visitors and a lot of people who will support you.
When you adopt a teenager, you will not see the same reaction. People may not know what to say. Some may be downright rude and ask why you would take on the responsibility. Some may question whether you have thought it through enough (because those who aren’t adopting can’t possibly understand the mountains of paperwork we go through to get to the actual adoption, and just how much we need to “think it through” to get there). Your sanity may be questioned. People you thought were supportive will suggest you not go through with the adoption. And, when you do adopt a teenager, you will likely not see any gifts, visitors, or have offers of help and support. Someone may still call you an angel, but the majority of people will likely call you crazy.
Of course, those calling you crazy will think they are funny. They will insist it is a joke. All the while, reminding you that a teenager is “so hard.” They just simply don’t understand.
Why adopt a teenager? Well…why not?
What are some of the advantages of adopting a teenager?
- A teen is already potty trained! No diapers!
- A teen can bathe themselves
- A teen can feed themselves
- A teen may even be able to COOK their own meals, and yours too!
- A teen will not need your constant supervision, and will go to school and maybe even WORK!
- A teen can help with household chores
- A teen will dress themselves (this can backfire, as they may have expensive taste in clothing, and assume that you, as the parent, must purchase these items)
- A teen will be able to help you with your electronic device issues
- A teen will be able to drive (or bike, walk) places themselves, which eliminates the feeling of being your child’s taxi service
Alright, I admit I am having a bit of fun with this, but these are actual advantages!
Adopting teenagers is often met with misunderstanding. As I said earlier, it is likely a foster or kinship adoption. When a teen is removed from their homes, and spend time in foster care or kinship care, people often assume there is a problem with the kids. There is a stigma to being an older child in foster care. People will assume the teen has behavioral issues or mental health issues. People will fear that the teen will make your life worse, rather than bring you joy.
While it is true that some teens have behavioral or mental health issues (not just those who are adopted or in foster care), it is also true that many don’t have these issues.
What is true about any child that is in foster care or kinship care is that they have experienced some trauma. Trauma does not always mean the teen will be unruly and destroy your house. While some teens who experience trauma react with outbursts and troubling behavior, not all do. However, this is the stereotype of teens in foster care: they will lie, steal, and be criminals in the making. The police will bring them home in handcuffs, and you will be left to try to fix what they have broken. You will spend all of your money on fines, and therapies, not to mention rehab for their drug addictions.
The lists of negatives can be exhausting. I have honestly heard all of the above said regarding teen adoption.
The thing to remember is that most saying this have not adopted a teen! They have not fostered a teen. They may not even know any teens!!
The truth is that most children waiting to be adopted in the foster care system are over the age of 8 years old. This means a lot of preteens and teens need homes right now. When thinking about adoption, can you move past the baby image, and imagine adopting a child who is older?
If you are currently fostering a teenager, or providing kinship care for a teenager, that doesn’t necessarily mean you can adopt them. The first step to adoption would be the termination of their parents’ rights. If their case moves to termination, they may become adoptable. In some areas, caseworkers don’t pursue the adoption of teenagers. You may have to ask if you are interested in adopting a teen. Because teens are often overlooked when it comes to permanent family placement, some don’t think of this option, and instead, assume the child will age out of the system.
Let’s also be honest and address that many teens in foster care will have some special needs. They may need counseling to try to cope with a traumatic background. They may need medications to manage depression or anxiety. There are many ways these teens may need support and help. This does not make them “bad” kids or “unadoptable.”
When a person adopts an infant, they do not know if that child will have any needs in the future. It is likely not even a big concern to their parents, as they are just excited to begin their journey. Similarly, when parents conceive and raise a child together, they don’t often discuss what type of trouble the baby may have as a teenager. They are parents to the child, no matter what. They love and care for the child through any and all difficulties, both physical and mental health. There is not a question of what they will “put up with” or rude comments about “taking on too much.”
So why is this the case when talking about teen adoption?
With a teen, the behavior or issues are already known. If you were given a baby, and you were told that, as a teen, they would have symptoms of trauma, a learning disability, or depression, would you refuse to raise that baby?
The truth is ANY teenager can be challenging. They are no longer small people who you are molding into responsible humans. They are now nearly grown humans, trying to become adults, but not quite there yet. They are searching for independence, while they still have to rely heavily on parents to help them. They are figuring out who they are and what they want from life.
I have biological children, as well as adopted children. I have also fostered many teens. The truth is some teens are harder than others, just as some babies are harder than others. It is really that simple.
But when it comes to adoption, you will miss the “baby” years, which is what most people think of when they think of parenting. So when you are introducing an older child to the family, most people don’t really know how to react. There is an assumption that it will be “different” from parenting a young child. And that is true in some cases, but not in all cases.
How might it be different?
It might be different in that the teen may not call you “mom” or “dad.” They may call you by your name instead. If they were placed with you as an older child, they likely have a relationship with their biological parents and would feel uncomfortable calling someone else “mom” or “dad.” This doesn’t mean they don’t recognize you as their parent or don’t want you to be their parent. To be honest, my daughter grew up calling my husband by his first name since he wasn’t her biological father. As an adult, she asked him to adopt her, and he is now her legal dad. But old habits die hard, and she still uses his first name when talking to him.
Another difference may be that a teen may not take your last name at adoption. This is really a family decision. While some may feel that it is necessary, others may not. If a child feels uncomfortable changing his or her name at this later stage, their feelings should be considered.
A child who is adopted as a teen may have attachment issues. Attachment issues can occur in adoption at any age but are more likely in older children who have had several placements or have been neglected.
A teen may be less demanding on a physical level, meaning they don’t need you to carry them around, feed them, or change them, but they are emotionally demanding. Teen years are hard. Add to the regular drama of hormones and teen angst that your teen has also been removed from their home and adopted, and you should expect some occasional emotional overload.
We have to remember that stereotyping teens in care looking to be adopted isn’t helpful. Just as stereotyping anyone based on one aspect of their life isn’t helpful.
Some teens will experience more trauma than others. Some will have more challenging behavior than others. Not all teens will become teen parents, and not all teens will have issues with the law. This includes teens who are adopted as well as those who aren’t.
If you are considering adopting a teenager, and you are faced with critics, take time to remind them that they don’t know how their children will be as teens. You know BEFORE you are the parent what the teen is like. You are able to prepare ahead of time and make an informed decision on if you are up to the parenting challenge! Bonus!
Also, people may need to be reminded that teens enter foster or kinship care for reasons beyond their control. Somewhere in their past, their parents were unable to safely or properly provide care. This is traumatic. This is not their fault.
Some may find it hard to understand that it isn’t just cute, crying babies that need to be adopted. It is important for every child to feel they are wanted and loved and have a place to call home. Every child should have a parent they can call for advice. Every child should have a bed to sleep in and know they will not go hungry.
Many older teens “age out” of the foster care system. This means that when they become a legal adult, they are given a small amount of money and are left to fend for themselves. Because of their history of trauma, many of these teens are not yet ready to be on their own. Unfortunately, teens who don’t feel they have a safe place to land will likely not do well.
If you have fostered a teen, and are willing to adopt them, I would encourage you to pursue it. Teens can be just as loving as smaller children. You may be able to change the whole course of their life by making them your family member forever and promising to be there for them permanently. Undoubtedly, the teen will change your life forever too.
So, pursue the adoption, and bring home your new family member. If they want, throw them a party! Remind people that this child is your family, and should be included in all holiday gift exchanges and recognized on their birthday. Expect support from your community, and from your family. To those who think you are crazy, give them an education on adoption, and expect an apology. And we all know an apology is only sincere with a change in behavior, so expect them to become a cheerleader for teen adoption too.
All children deserve to have a family. Newborns, toddlers, preteens, and teens all deserve a parent to love and care for them.
Some people prefer the baby years. Others prefer children who are able to do some things for themselves. For those who want kids, but aren’t into changing diapers and singing the ABC’s 50 times a day, try fostering and adopting a teen!