Adopting a Tween or Teen: Special Issues to Consider

There are many children over 10 years old waiting to be adopted in US foster care, as well in orphanages throughout the world. Are you the family to adopt them? What special issues do families face when adopting a tween/teen? Host Dawn Davenport, Executive Director of Creating a Family, the national infertility & adoption education and support nonprofit, interviews Mark Lacava, adoption therapist with the Modern Family Center at Spence-Chapin Adoption Services.

Hit the Highlights
  • There are many children over the age of 10 available for adoption in the US Foster Care system, as well as in orphanages throughout the world. These children are some of the hardest to place because potential adoptive parents have worries about what issues adopting teens and tweens might bring.
  • Adopting older kids comes with many preconceived ideas. We asked our online community and these are some that we heard:
    • You’ll be in for a long, difficult haul because of behavioral and emotional issues the teen will come with;
    • You may or may not see the rewards;
    • The teen will feel like a guest for a long time;
    • People around you will thing you’re a hero, but won’t understand or be able to support you in the way you need.
    • When adopted at an older age, the kids go back to their birth families as soon as they turn 18.
  • How is adopting an older child different than adopting a younger child?
  • Under what circumstances would it be ok to adopt an older child when you have younger children already?
  • How can parents make sure that the child is stable enough to not endanger other children in the home?
  • Parents worry that tween/teen behavior (sneaking out, drug or alcohol use, sexual information) might affect kids already in the home.
  • Not all tweens/teens have behavioral issues that make them a danger, but how can parents prepare for the steep learning curve of dealing with an angsty teen that you don’t know well?
  • How can you effectively set limits as the parent and the tween/teen are figuring each other out?
  • Once a child has learned to be independent and self-sufficient at that age, would it be hard to have rules and boundaries in a new environment?
  • How do you balance letting them gain independence and having them attach?
  • Do parents who adopt teens have enough time to bond with the child before they turn 18?
  • What are some things we can do to bond with our older adopted child?
  • Q: My hesitancies are that we have: A) Never parented this age group and B) I didn’t care for teenagers much when I was one myself.
  • Q: My husband’s concerns are that the children (15+) will only be in our lives for a very short time; meaning they will be with us until they each the age of maturity and then leave to return to their bio families regardless of what they may have endured there. He fears getting ourselves and children attached to someone who doesn’t want to be part of our family.
  • Often times when adopting an older child, openness is not an option because of safety reason or because it is an international adoption. How can we help children with identity formation when we have little info on their biological family or what info they have is negative?
  • What are strategies to help get through difficult periods when adopting a child over the age of 10?
  • What helps adoptive parents decide to take the big step of adopting a teen?
  • Problem with labels that children, especially older kids, come with. How accurate? How much weight to give them.

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Image Credit: Marcia Stuhler