6 Tips for Talking with Your Adopted Teen
When you try to talk to your teen, do you often get the silent treatment or ignored? Perhaps your teen spends more time texting his or her friends than talking to you? During the teen years, it is not uncommon to find teens more interested in talking with their friends than with their parents. Especially on the subject of adoption, talking with adolescents can seem like an impossible undertaking.
Communication with your adopted teen is extremely important during adolescence, and adopted teens need parental support and guidance more than ever. Using these 6 tools can help you talk with your adopted teen.
#1: Be Present in the Conversation
Being present means giving one's full attention to the conversation, in the present moment. Oftentimes, parents can also get distracted by other thoughts, feelings, and sensations. Being present is being mindful and aware of what is going on with one's teen in the present moment, and working hard to avoid being distracted by unrelated stimuli (i.e., phones, electronics, etc.). By refraining from doing something else, holding a curious stance, and showing interest and care in what they have to say, you let your teen know, "You can talk to me, I am here for you, I am listening."
#2: Be Willing to Talk About Adoption
There are many ways to approach talking about adoption with your teen whether it be through television, news media, etc. An excellent TV show currently that handles adoption very well is "This is Us" on NBC. You may find your attempts at reaching out will be rejected, however, sometimes teens will surprise you. The important thing to remember here is to keep talking and expressing your willingness and interest to listen.
#3: Validate and Communicate Respect for Your Teen's Feelings
When your adopted teen discloses feelings, related to adoption and otherwise, the first step is to employ accurate reflection. Accurate reflection involves saying your teen's feelings, experiences, or opinions of his or her adoption experience they expressed to you back to them. It's important to reflect back to the person accurately in order to avoid them feeling unheard or misunderstood as a result.
Adoptees are especially sensitive when it comes to discussing their feelings regarding adoption. Your adopted teen will notice if you are disapproving or uncomfortable when discussing adoption, whether you communicate this verbally or nonverbally. When adopted teens (or teens in general) are able to express their feelings, they are able to talk about solutions to their actions, because they feel heard.
#4 Look INTO Your Teen's Behavior
Particular behaviors in your teen may alert you to something going on inside of them. When teens have a difficult time verbalizing their painful feelings, those feelings are often expressed through their behavior. By looking into your adopted teen's behavior you can then guess unstated feelings by reading in between the lines to try and work out what is going on beneath the surface presentation they are portraying. (See below resources for more information on what may be going on below the surface for your teen).
#5 Consider Adoption History
Sometimes the way adopted teens react to events in their everyday lives can be influenced by their past adoption experiences. This is especially true for adoptees who have trauma histories. Current situations which may act as a reminder of past trauma may trigger a negative reaction. Understanding why someone may react in a certain way depending on previous experiences is an important communication tool by showing your teen's feelings matter, even if it may not be something you struggle with yourself. For example, parents could say, "Given your past experiences and what you have been through, I understand that ______ must be _____ for you."
#6 Share Available Adoption Information
Adolescence is a time when adopted teens begin to face identity questions and may start asking who they are and where they come from. It is understandable why some parents may want to protect their children from potentially painful aspects of their adoption story, especially if there is significant trauma involved. However, it is extremely important for adopted teens to have information about their birth family and their history in order to integrate who they are while being supported within their families.
Communication may be difficult with your teen as they can be known for their lack of responsiveness, or one-word responses. Their lack of communication may be a part of normal adolescent development: gaining independence. Being patient with your teen and avoiding lengthy lectures can be helpful. Teens are more likely to open up when parents present as relaxed, engaged, and calm. Also, as a therapist, I have found it can be easier for teens to open up while engaged in an activity, such as coloring or playing a game.
The most important thing is to let your teen know that his or her feelings are being heard. When it comes to adoption-related issues, some parents struggle to understand what their teen is telling them. That is okay. It's important to let your adopted teen know that you are trying, and will make an effort to understand and learn. At the end of the day, we are all human and you and your teen are in this together.
Would you like to learn more about how to better communicate or support your adopted teen? Contact me to schedule a counseling appointment at my Grand Rapids office (located on the NE side, just off of 1-96 and East Beltline).