tips for talking with tweens and teens about adoption

I love the teen years. I’ve raised four teens and worked in youth ministry for 17 years. I find this age group to be intriguing and frustrating in equal measure. One thing I know for sure, parenting this age group takes the ability to let them gradually take the reins while you still are available for advice.

Talking with tweens and teens about adoption is especially challenging because often they want to be in charge of the discussion…as they should be. But as parents we need to keep talking. Here are some tips to make this easier.

Tips for Talking with Tweens & Teens About Adoption

  1. Even if your child does not bring up the topic of adoption or birth parents, periodically throw our a conversation starter and let them decide whether to catch it and talk or ignore it and let it drop.
  2. Children are often more open when they are not facing their parents. Some of the best opportunities for discussing any emotionally laden topic, such as adoption or birth parents, is in the car or while you are rubbing their back with the lights off at bedtime.
  3. Look for opportunities in the media, movies, TV where the subject of adoption comes up naturally to use as conversation starters with your adolescent.
  4. Let your child know that it is normal to wonder about birth parents and to wish for more information or contact. Through your action and your words let your child know that you are not threatened by their curiosity or desire for contact, and that you are available to talk at any time.
  5. Play the “Where Does This Come From” Game* with your teens and tweens. Label three baskets: From Birth Family, From Our Family, From Myself. On separate pieces of paper write down traits, such as hair color, musical ability, being an ice-cream-aholic, lover of bad puns, extroversion/introversion, hating math, competitiveness, ADHD, intelligence, etc. Each person in the family draws a piece of paper out of the pile and has to place it in the basket that they think best describes where this trait came from. Disagreements and discussions are not only allowed, they are encouraged. This is a great way to open up thoughts about how we became the people we are. After you play, listen as a family to this Creating a Family interview with the authors of fascinating research on how much of our specific traits come from our genes or our environment. (Importance of Genetics in Determining Who We Are.)
  6. Leave school at school. By the time your child is a teen, parental pressure to perform well at school is not effective. It is fine to point out the natural consequences for poor grades, and it is fair to expect them to go to school, but their grades are between them and the school. It is not worth damaging your relationship over.
  7. Actively work on strengthening your relationship with your tween and teen by playing games and having fun. Read My #1 Tip for Parenting for ideas.

*Credit for this game came from Sean Delehant, a therapist and program director with the Center for Adoption Support and Education. He was a guest on the Creating a Family show on “How to Talk with Tweens and Teens about Adoption”.