What to do when adopting a teenager

What to do when adopting a teenager

Marcus was already 16 when Robin and Katheryn Smith decided to adopt him. The couple had adopted younger children before, but this was going to be their first foray into teenage adoption. Marcus was already almost an adult, and having been in the foster care system for a while, this was different from what the couple had been used to before. What could they do to make welcoming the 16 year old into their family as smooth as possible?

Teenage adoption is its own challenge in the world of adoption. As opposed to adopting a younger child, teenagers might have spent time in the foster care system, have had plenty of time to develop as their own person, and might be a few years away from legal independence. However, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have a chance at finding a forever home! While the challenges may be different, there are still ways to make your new teenage family member feel at home. 

Recognize their experiences 

Up until recently, being a teenager in the foster care system meant that you’d probably have to get used to being independent as soon as you hit 18. Growing up with that always in the back of your mind can be a lot for anyone. It’s important then to empathize (and not sympathize) with the teen. Recognize the hardships they’ve had to go through without just feeling sorry for them. Don’t forget to also pick out their strengths and what they’ve accomplished. Bond with them by letting them know you value what they’ve gone through – they’re not just a blank slate or a stand-in for a child. They’re their own person, too.

Marcus, for instance, went into the foster care system when his grandparents passed away. His biological parents had abandoned him as a young boy to the care of his grandparents, and since  his grandparents’ death, he had spent three years in the system, bouncing from foster house to foster house. When he finally met the Smiths, they recognized the hardship Marcus had to face, and empathized with him by reaffirming the challenges of his life and the strength shown by pushing through. No pity was given; only words of affirmation. 

Treat them like your own, but give them time to learn 

The best way to make an adoptee feel at home is to treat them like they’re your own flesh and blood. But that also comes with a caveat. While you might’ve raised your other children one way, whether from birth or from a young age as an adoptee, with ingrained rules and values, the teen will most likely not know those rules and expectations, as they were raised in a different environment. Give them time to learn what their expectations are, and gently correct them if they make mistakes. 

If they don’t seem to follow the rules or don’t seem to place as much importance on them, have a calm talk with them. There may be past experiences that cause them to make those decisions. Understand where they’re coming from and make a few adjustments if you feel it’s necessary. 

When the Smiths brought Marcus home, it took him a while to get used to the chore chart. At the foster homes he’d been in, chores were done on an individual basis; each person was responsible for their own dishes and no one else’s. For the first few weeks he felt like extra responsibility was being pushed on him and would “forget” to do other people’s dishes. 

Robin and Katheryn saw this and asked him why he kept doing this. After his explanation, they told him they understood, though he could also think of it another way. With the chore chart, they explained, other people would take Marcus’s share of the work so he could have time to do other things. Instead of having to do the dishes every day, now he only needed to do them once a week. 

This change of viewpoint helped Marcus accept the chore chart, and smoothed things over for the newly-formed family.

Consider that adoption isn’t just for childhood – it’s for life.

While teenagers might seem like they’re close to getting out of the system, family doesn’t end at age 18. Adopting someone doesn’t just mean raising them to adulthood, it’s also tying someone into the family for the long haul. Having someone there to help them navigate through early adulthood and beyond as a voice of reason/advice is part of adoption as well. 

Understanding all this can help put things into perspective for everyone involved. It’s not helping them get to age 18 and then cutting them loose; it’s supporting them through the rest of their lives, just like you would expect from any parent. 

Robin and Katheryn were a bit hesitant about adopting a teenager at first. They felt like if they adopted them now, they would need to let them go in only two short years. But as they talked to more and more people, they realized parenting doesn’t end there. Marcus (and many others like him) still need guidance through that early life. The Smiths would be there to be his safety net, his home to fall back on if anything went wrong. With that idea in their hearts, the couple decided to be the safety net for Marcus, officially making him Marcus Smith. 

If you need help figuring out the best way to be that safety net for a teen you know (or one you’ll get to know), let us be that helping hand! Call us today at (770) 580-3699.

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