Home Family & Relationship How Can We Support Adopted Teens Into Adulthood (and Beyond)

How Can We Support Adopted Teens Into Adulthood (and Beyond)

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Adolescence is a key development stage before young people become adults. It is often thought of as the stage when young people have changed priorities and as peers and friends become more important their family take a back seat as they are finding their place in the world.  It’s a time for them to practice their skills, often by making mistakes, to become independent and start to look after themselves.

This can include taking responsibility for their actions, managing their time, looking after themselves and sorting out their own problems albeit at times they will still need their families support for this. So by the time young people reach 18 we’d hope that they are well on their way to the next phase of their life waving to us cheerily as we congratulate ourselves on how we got them this far. I wonder how many of us thought about the next stage?

Children who are adopted and therefore have often suffered trauma and neglect can find adolescence a tricky time, not that they’d ever admit it.

This can be because to admit they’re not managing or need help means relying on an adult, namely a parent, to help them out and this can mean acknowledging they need us. This doesn’t miraculously change as they reach the magical age of 18.

Neglect and trauma damages the brain, it inhibits the neural pathways which means there’s a gap in processing and so thoughts and actions, or behaviour and consequences don’t match up. These gaps don’t suddenly disappear and although the plasticity of the teenage brain offers another opportunity to re-parent and so prune the pathways it can be hard going if they have different ideas.

Adopted teens often do have different ideas to their parents and families as this seems to be the time when most conflict arises in the parent / child relationship.

Added to this are issues of legality where the 18 year old is now defined in law as an adult and so parental input and guidance can be seen by professionals as ill-intentioned or unwanted. Although most families will have had input from professionals previously, and this also can be reported as difficult, we can now find ourselves and our adopted adult children involved with services such as adult social care, the justice system, housing and the benefit system to name a few.

These services can vary in their approaches widely and adopted adults can often struggle to access the appropriate services and support as their difficulties can be well hidden either intentionally or unintentionally. Their difficulties with organisation mean they struggle to make appointments or attend appointments and they can sometimes fail to see the importance or benefit of arriving on time. 

We can now find ourselves in the difficult position of trying to advocate for and support our adult children with services that expect them to manage this themselves. This can include supporting them to get to appointments but also filling in forms, managing their finances and providing evidence of their ongoing needs. It can also involve stress over how they are conducting their lives and the decisions they make that can be unwise and unsafe at times. 

Difficulties with behaviour caused by their early life experiences mean they can often fail to see how we are trying to support them and again it can be parents who feel the brunt of their displeasure when life is not going as planned for them.

Instead I’m sure we often feel we are left picking up the pieces and knowing when to intervene and when to step back to allow them to make their own mistakes can be difficult with the amount of extra stress this can cause families who are ultimately left to sort it all out.

I’ve heard friends talk about their children’s sense of entitlement as if the world owes them something and this seems to be a common theme. Our adult children can complain that we are on the one hand ruining their lives whilst berating us for not sorting things out so they can claim how independent they are. 

Parenting into adulthood is hard work, it can be made harder by services, but also our adult children as some of the support we offer can then be unwanted by them.

It can be frustrating to spend time sorting our appointments and services which they then miss because it doesn’t fit in with their plans or they are using their default position of disengaging from services available to support them.

The most we can do is concentrate on the essentials, support them with the things that they need to do such as maintaining appointments about finance, housing and health while smiling sweetly and humming the theme to Mary Poppins under our breath. This is also a good strategy when the phone calls come as they’ve run out of food and money for it. The policy in our family is a food parcel and heating is essential, anything else will have to wait and the boomerang £20 needs to be paid back before it can be lent again.

Focusing on maintaining our relationship with them, through providing the essentials, is sometimes the best and most important thing we can do, however frustrating that is (and believe me I know).

It can be difficult to loosen those reigns, but it’s essential for our relationship too. So although it’s important for us to still be a supportive presence in their lives we also need to remember that we need to look after ourselves too as we can only do our best. It’s that old adage of ‘put your own life jacket on first’ before you can help anyone else. 

*** Image credit: Freepik

Suzanne Gould is an adoptive parent of a 22-year-old.

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