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Do Adopted Kids Have More Problems?

You may have heard the news story a few years ago – an adoptive family in Tennessee put their 7-year-old Russian-born boy on an unaccompanied one-way flight back to Russia, explaining that he had terrorized their family since coming to live with them. Now, the world is in an uproar over their seemingly heartless and careless act.

This family’s decision to handle their child like they did is totally unacceptable, I know.  But I also know that adoptions can go haywire.  And I’ve see enough disrupted adoptions, where something just doesn’t go as planned.   Enough that I’m convinced that any parent can be pushed, given the right circumstances, to the same point this family in Tennessee was pushed. My heart goes out to any family caught in the tenuous crisis where they are surprised by behavior presented and not quite prepared to handle the situation.

Adopted kids may or may not have any more problems than any other group of kids, but I think they often present a different “mix” of problems.  And those problems can often be more severe, with behavior escalating to the point where a child is out of control and dangerous to himself and others around him or her.

Approximately one third of the kids that have lived with us at Heartlight… have been adopted, almost 800 kids. The fact that each of those kids live with us for a year, gives me some room to talk about the problems. I understand.

There’s no question that typical adolescent issues like belonging, fitting-in, rejection, connection, acceptance, and peer-relationships can become particularly prominent for some adopted kids.  But there are other factors that can cause just as many problems for the child and the adoptive parents.

Adoption Issues to Be Aware Of

If the adopted child was born out of a high-risk pregnancy, there is higher probability that they were prenatally exposed to alcohol, tobacco and other harmful drugs.  These impediments aren’t always unmanageable, nor are they untreatable.  But just knowing that there might be issues down the road as a result of that exposure might prepare you for dealing with it later on.  Many kids given up for adoption have come from high-risk pregnancies, exposing them to potential for developmental delays, impulsive choices, poor choices, attention deficit, hyperactivity, learning disabilities, and emotional disorders. There may be a higher risk as well for issues such as Reactive Attachment Disorder, other attachment issues, learning disabilities, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), logic sequence problems, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, or Attention Deficit/Hyperactive Disorder.

Adoptive parents may also have to deal with anger and rages in their adopted child, just as the Tennessee  parents have claimed.  As a result, adopted kids might have to attend a special school, have special teachers, or need tutoring.  All of this can be expensive and may go on for years.  To make matters worse, an adopted child may not hug you or express love or appreciation the way you want.

But There’s Hope in Every Adoption

Am I an expert on adoption?  No, not me.  But I enter the world of adoption “from the other side” because I know and have helped more than 800 adopted teens who have come to live in our Heartlight residential counseling program, and I have listened to the 10,000 questions they brought with them.  My search for answers to those 10,000 questions has led me to my own conclusions about problems that can come up with adopted kids.  Sometimes their struggles may be the result of prenatal issues, but mostly it’s because we’re all people who carry some personal baggage, and we bring our wounded hearts into our relationships.  We all are sinners in need of a Savior… and in need of help.  I am convinced that no problem is too great for God to resolve, and no relationship too damaged for Him to repair.

I believe that God in His sovereignty places orphaned or abandoned children with families on purpose.  And what I have discovered is that conflicts that arise from adoption issues, whether on the side of parents or of the adopted child, can be overcome.  God has a way of taking conflict and using it for our own good, and for deepening the relationship between parent and child.  God doesn’t give up on us, nor does He send us back to where we came from. There are times that I believe that working through the conflict helps everyone involved move toward wholeness, and to deeper relationships.

It is good to understand the issues that surround adoption, for understanding brings a family to a different response, a calmer approach to handling conflict, and a platform to learn new ways for engaging with a child.

So, Why Adopt?

I want people to adopt.  In fact, I sit on the board of an international adoption agency.  But I want adoptive parents to know full well the issues that might come up, invade, or enter the relationship with their child.  Perhaps if the parents in Tennessee had known more about the potential pitfalls, perhaps they would have been better prepared for the potential for struggle.

If you plan to adopt, just remember this; there is more to the portrait of your adopted child’s life than you will be able to see.  You’ll play a very important role in that portrait, and the presence of conflict, disillusionment, or hardship won’t negate the purpose of the portrait.  I believe that most change in a person’s life come through conflict, difficulty, and hardship.  I also believe it is worth the struggle so that kids can live in families.

God bless those who choose to give a child a new home and a new family.  If you are an adoptive family, may your home be a haven of hope for a child who needs you; may God’s beautiful provision for orphans reach down to you as well, and may He give you the strength to work through any future struggles or difficulties.  And, as always, if I can help, please don’t hesitate to call.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas.  He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 40 years, has two kids, and four grandkids.  He lives in Longview, Texas, with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, two llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.

His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with more than 2,800 teens has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents. You can find out more about Heartlight at HeartlightMinistries.orgYou can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.

Mark is also the host of the radio program Parenting Today’s Teen; heard on over 1,600 radio outlets nationwide. Visit ParentingTodaysTeens.org where you’ll find more parenting resources and find a station near you that carries the daily 60-second features or the 30-minute weekend program. Download the Parenting Today’s Teens App for Apple or Android, it’s a great way to listen on your schedule.

 


Adopted Children and Sexual Promiscuity

Already feeling confusion about their identity and validity, adopted teens are doubly impacted by growing feelings of abandonment by their birth parents.  It can lead them to inappropriately attach themselves to another person sexually.

There are several catalysts for sexual promiscuity among adopted kids, above and beyond the normal temptations of the hyper-sexualized teen culture.  Sex can temporarily satisfy an adopted teen’s craving for relationship, “belonging” and a connectedness to another person.  Or, it can be an attempt to emulate and identify with their birth parents if they were also promiscuous.  Or, they can view themselves as “damaged goods” and seek acceptance at any cost through giving themselves to someone else sexually.

Over the last few years we have seen a major shift… an increase in “disconnectedness” among the kids we work with, and especially among the adopted kids.  The normal and powerful desire by all teens to fit in and “belong” comes to adopted young people at the same time they are dealing with a growing sense abandonment by their birth parents.  Even kids who have been doing well may start having major issues as a result.

They start asking questions like “Where is my mom?” “Why would she abandon me?” “Where do I belong?”  The result is confusion and a heightened sense of needing to belong and be connected to another person.  The thought “Maybe there’s something wrong with me,” is common; and it can radiate out to impact their behavior, attitude, and every part of their lives — including their sexual activities.

Let me share with you this story of one of the young ladies now at Heartlight.  She says, “It wasn’t a big deal when I was little.  I was adopted as an infant, so the family I grew up in is the only family I had ever known.  The trouble started when some kids at school asked, ‘Why are you different from your parents?’”

“That’s when I started struggling with my identity and questions about my birth parents like ‘What did they look like?’ and ‘Why did they give me up?’  It really bothered me.  It started to eat away at me as I got older and especially when I found out that my birth mother gave me up because she wasn’t married. So, I became promiscuous myself, just like she had been.”

Her story is not unique.  It’s not that adopted kids are guaranteed to spin out of control, but their need for identity is a major issue for them.  It’s usually a temporary confusion, but it can have lasting consequences if they turn to sexuality as a way to belong.  Parents of adopted kids need to have their radar tuned to this issue and address any signs of sexual promiscuity as soon as they appear.

My good friend, a licensed clinical social worker, Dee Dee Mayer said, “It’s important to be overtly open and honest about the truth.  Being afraid to talk about sexual issues can lead to the opposite of what you want to create, which is safety and acceptance.”  Her point is so important.  Instead of a negative approach, with teens we need to approach sex from a positive standpoint as a great thing that’s worth waiting for.

What we have to make them understand is that such relationships are only a temporary substitute for the real thing.  Yet at the same time, we have to be careful not to give them a wrong view of sex as something dirty or depraved. And it’s important to be proactive rather than reactive.

Don’t wait for things to start going wrong.  Your adopted child will receive massive amounts of input and encouragement to display sexuality and participate in sex from their friends, media and their culture.  So, you need to start early to give them a healthy view of sexuality, both as it relates to God’s design for their future and to their identity.

God doesn’t make mistakes.  Sex is His design.  It isn’t a wrong thing in and of itself; it is just something that has been taken outside His boundaries by our culture.  Encourage your children to wait for the fullness of His plan and save sex for marriage.  Encourage them to find their identity in the love the unfailing Heavenly Father has for them, as well as your love.  You can help steer them through this difficult transition.  And we’re here to help.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas.  He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 40 years, has two kids, and four grandkids.  He lives in Longview, Texas, with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, two llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.

His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with more than 2,800 teens has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents. You can find out more about Heartlight at HeartlightMinistries.orgYou can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.

Mark is also the host of the radio program Parenting Today’s Teen; heard on over 1,600 radio outlets nationwide. Visit ParentingTodaysTeens.org where you’ll find more parenting resources and find a station near you that carries the daily 60-second features or the 30-minute weekend program.   Here you can download the Parenting Today’s Teens App, a great way to listen on your schedule.

 

 


The Adopted Teen’s Quest for Identity

Adoption is obviously a better alternative to a child languishing “in the system” – living in foster care or an orphanage. That’s why I have worked many years with national and international adoption organizations whose goal is to match needy kids with great parents. As I’ve experienced these adoptions first hand, I firmly believe that God has His hand in every case. After all, God is the ultimate authority on adoption. I think He provides specific parents with specific children for specific reasons. It may be hard to believe, but God may have given you a child knowing that as a teen they would struggle, and that He would need you for such a time as this.

And, because I believe God maneuvers children into families, I also believe that God is prepared to help these new parents know what to do should their adopted child spin out of control in the teen years. Not all adopted kids go through this struggle, and usually not if they were adopted earlier in life, but many of the older kids do.  God is a great example of how to restore an adopted child going through this struggle. His example of nurturing, understanding, love, patience, kindness, goodness, forgiveness and grace is the best pattern for helping them through their time of difficulty.

The drive for an adopted teen to uncover their history intensifies during the teen years, and they will do almost anything to get their questions answered. I’ve seen kids pull all kinds of stunts, including tracking down their birth parents through the Internet, contacting them unexpectedly, and even setting up a time to meet without ever telling their adoptive parents about it. I’ve witnessed them pay for cell phone numbers, contact attorneys to get help, and send photos to their birth parents — uninvited.

Adopted children face unique circumstances, and it is not unusual for them to struggle with issues surrounding their identity in the teen years. For their parents, the most difficult part is trying not to take their sudden confusion personally. This tussle isn’t about teenage rebellion as much as a struggle to answer questions about their history — who they are, why their birth parents gave them up, and what it means for their future. It isn’t that the teen no longer loves the adoptive parents and are no longer appreciative of all their new family has done for them. It’s that they are in confusion over how they got to where they are.

If you are an adoptive parent, your role is to continue to parent them with the same kind of love you’ve always held. Remember God’s example of nurturing, understanding, love, patience, kindness, goodness, forgiveness and grace. Don’t respond negatively because your feelings are hurt. Don’t say you’re giving up as their parent. And don’t try to “fix” the problem with giving the teenager more “things.” All of this only adds to an adopted teen’s mixed up sense of self and can lead to even more instability.

These kids need both time and stability to work through their issues. It is often a stage that they can work through and come out on the other side even more appreciative of their adoptive parents.  In the meantime, they need their parents to remain steady and calm while they turn their world upside down in a quest to understand their history.  And they may need professional help sorting it all out when the truth is finally made known. While not always true, your teen may discover that the circumstances of their adoption are not what they expected, and the history they uncover has potential to cause even more hurt. So, be watchful and take care to get your adopted teenager the kind of professional help they may need at this time in their life.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas.  He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 40 years, has two kids, and four grandkids.  He lives in Longview, Texas, with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, two llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.

His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with more than 2,800 teens has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents. You can find out more about Heartlight at HeartlightMinistries.orgYou can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.

Mark is also the host of the radio program Parenting Today’s Teen; heard on over 1,600 radio outlets nationwide. Visit ParentingTodaysTeens.org where you’ll find more parenting resources and find a station near you that carries the daily 60-second features or the 30-minute weekend program. Download the Parenting Today’s Teens App for Apple or Android, it’s a great way to listen on your schedule.