Skip to content

Struggles for Adopted Teens

You’ve given your adopted child every advantage in life and showered him with love and affection. But now that the teen years have arrived, your teen has become sullen and distant. What happened? In this article, I’ll talk about the unique struggles adopted teens face and share how parents can help overcome them.


The Timing of Struggles for Adopted Kids
When kids reach adolescence, they move from concrete thinking to abstract thinking. They begin to question ideas and information they readily accepted just a few months ago. Often, this time is when adopted teens start to struggle. They ask themselves questions such as: Why did my adopted mom and dad really give me up? Is there something wrong with me? Will my adoptive parents still love me if I’m not perfect? Can I trust anyone? As your teen struggles through these tough questions, he or she needs your love and guidance to process and find answers.


Some Struggles Adopted Teens Face
Struggles with value. Parents give kids their sense of value. As adopted kids become teens, they may struggle with their value and self-worth. Even though you’ve told your teen time and time again that you chose him to be a part of your family, he can’t help but ask: How come the “one” who birthed me gave me up? Some adopted teens may conclude that they weren’t valuable enough.

Struggles with loss. Adopted teens are frequently reminded about the loss they experienced at a young age. People ask about their adoption and the family that might have been. The reminder of this loss can lead to anger or frustration, even if your teen doesn’t understand why he’s upset. Afterall, it’s normal for teens look at their life and think life would be better “if” they had better friends, more popularity, or a different family. No teen is completely satisfied with their circumstances. But adopted teens can easily fantasize that life would be better “if” they weren’t given up. They wonder if perhaps their birth family could have offered them something more exciting or a greater sense of belonging. If your child is displaying anger, the loss of “what might have been” could be presenting itself.

Struggles with belonging. All teens want to feel loved and accepted. During the turbulent teenaged years, teens struggle with a sense of belonging. No matter how hard parents try to let their teen know how much they are wanted, some adopted teens feel rejected by their birth family, and this can bleed over into their adoptive family. This can lead them to question whether or not their adoptive family really wants them. Whether they look different from the rest of the family, or they blend in, your teen may feel she is different and that she don’t belong anywhere.


How Can Parents Help their Adopted Teen with These Issues?
Some kids find out they were adopted during their teenaged years, when their parents think they’re “mature” enough to handle it. But, even if you’re teen has known about his adoption for a while, you need to be ready for the hard and perhaps unanswerable questions that crop up in adolescence. Start early by laying the foundation of a close relationship. Take time to talk to your son or daughter about how they are feeling and what they are thinking. Build into him a strong sense of confidence when he experiences rejection, so that the rejection he feels in adolescent is not a new issue. Make your home a place of belonging and acceptance, especially early on. No matter what struggle your teen goes through, don’t back down. Stay connected, even when you feel like your teen is pushing you away. It’s okay not to know all the answers—but it’s always the right time to deal with your teen’s struggles from being adopted.


Encouragement for Adoptive Parents
I am convinced that no problem is too great that it can’t be resolved, and no relationship is too damaged that it can’t be repaired. God has a way of taking the conflict that rises from adoption issues and using it for good to deepen the relationship between parent and child. Even though conflict doesn’t feel good, I truly believe that some conflict is a necessary part of helping families move towards wholeness.


Hey moms and dads … adoption is one of the most admirable acts. Many adoptions come with a set of unknowns that show themselves when an adopted child reaches his teen years. That doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with the adoption. What it means is that parents have to switch gears to accommodate the new needs of their adopted teens, to help them get through a difficult time. While most adopted teens don’t fully accept and adapt to their adoption until their 20s, there’s still hope to be a part of a teen’s life as they seek the answers to the new questions that arise when they become an adolescent. The wise parent understands that nurture doesn’t solve everything. Remember why you adopted this child into your family in the first place, and know that God’s plan was to have this child enter into your life, as much as you entered into his.

Author: Mark Gregston

Mark Gregston began working with teens more than 40 years ago as a youth minister and Young Life director. He has authored nearly two dozen books, has written hundreds of articles, and is host of the nationally-acclaimed Parenting Today’s Teens podcast and radio broadcast.