Adopting an older child comes with many benefits, but there are also many challenges. If you’re considering adoption at this stage, there are several things you should think about before adopting a waiting tween or teen. For example:
Commit To The Child
How much time can you commit to the child? When the waiting child is only a baby, you know that you’ll be spending almost every second with him or her. However, tweens and teens require a lot of attention too.
Your schedule must accommodate theirs, and there must be extra focus placed on family time and family-building exercises.
If you’ve never raised a teenager before, you might be in for a shock. Some new research shows that six hours a week of family time can make a significant difference to a teenager’s wellbeing and sense of achievement.
The study, done by researchers at the University of Toronto and Bowling Green State University in Ohio, analyzed the time diaries of a sample of children over time. The sample size was diverse and considered representative of pre-teens and teenagers. Researchers looked at children between the ages of 3 and 11 in 1997, then again in 2002 when those same children were between 12 and 17.
This study did not look at engagement, but rather total time spent with parents. This means that parents were not always necessarily “actively engaged” with children, but rather just there with them. The study showed that the amount of time spent with children between the ages of 3 and 11 didn’t change outcomes at later ages. Mothers working outside the home also didn’t affect outcomes.
But, once children reached their teens, the amount of shared family time mattered a lot.
To quantify the time spent, researchers estimated about 50 minutes per day spent sharing the same space, or about an hour, made a huge impact on the wellbeing of the child.
The time spent with parents was correlated with lower rates of drug and alcohol abuse, higher academic grades, and low incidences of delinquent or undesirable behavior.
A typical 15 year old teenager may take up to 18 months to fully integrate into the family. You must have patience as the parent. But, sometimes, this is difficult. According to Dr. Laurence Peter, for whom the “Peter Principle” is named after, shared humor has the ability to create a bond between two or more people. In fact, humor may be one of the most important factors in forging relationships.
Shared memories of funny stories often cement relationships, build new ones and strengthening established ones. Peter hypothesizes that laughter could speed up the integration process, providing you with a sort of “shortcut” to expanding a solid family structure with your child.
While they may no longer be children in the strictest sense of the term, children love silliness. Even teenagers who don’t seem to appreciate anything else in the world appreciate humor, especially from parents who aren’t afraid to go out on a limb to embarrass themselves and be silly. It shows that the parent isn’t afraid of taking risks – which fits in exactly with the mindset of a teenager.
This, in turn, gives them the message that you might be worth attaching to. This is sometimes a difficult concept for parents to grasp, because many parents equate silliness with stupidity and maturity with seriousness.
However, Dr. Steven Allen, Jr., the son of the famous comedian, argues that “stupid” really means ignorance and a lack of education. If someone does something stupid, it’s because he doesn’t know any better.
On the other hand, “silly,” which is derived from the old English word (ge)saelig, means completely happy or blessed.
Not only would being silly be appropriate, it would show your teenager that you’re happy and truly content with yourself and the world around you.
Get As Much Information As Possible About The Child
Being silly is just one aspect of good parenting. Information about your waiting child is another. Before you agree to adopt a child, you should understand the needs of the child, including any special medical needs.
Long-term planning for your family is also important. Can you afford the health insurance necessary for a teenager? What about life insurance? Can you afford to help your teen go to college, pay for expenses associated with moving out of the home, and raise them in a manner consistent with your family values?
What is the child’s history? Unlike waiting babies, waiting teens already have a history, perhaps with several foster homes or institutions. Many, but not all, may have psychological issues that need to be worked out. It’s just the reality of not being attached to a parent during their formative years.
Prepare For The Child
Learn as much as you can about teenagers. Then, learn about the many issues facing waiting teenagers and pre-teens. For example, does the child have a history with drugs and alcohol? Is there any clinical depression that has presented itself? Have there been any attempts at self-harm?
Traumatic experiences can also change the way teenagers need to be parented. Establishing a home of trust, rather than one of secrecy, will also help you and the child during the adoption process.
If your teen is already curious about his or her biological parents, you may need to prepare yourself for the possibility that your teenaged son or daughter wants to “leave the nest” early to search for them.
Get Agreement With The Child
By the time a child is a teenager, they have likely already formed independent thoughts and values. No, they aren’t completely independent yet, but they may have erected their own boundaries.
Try to meet with the child beforehand, if possible, to establish a relationship before he or she moves in. Ask if he wants to be adopted into your family (this is usually only possible with domestic adoption). At this age, it’s perfectly acceptable to ask. In fact, it might be presumptuous not to ask.
Establish and Strengthen The Triad
Never create a divide between you and the birth parents. Not only does this create distrust in your teenager (why would you not want him or her to search for or make contact with them?), but it can make it difficult for the teenager to form a healthy relationship with their own children if they choose to have any.
If your teen wants to have a relationship with his or her biological parents, let them. Don’t think of it as “us vs them” because it’s not. In fact, building a strong triad could create a larger, more stable, family structure.
Your teenager shouldn’t feel like they are betraying either you or their birth parents with love. A well-developed triad can feel like an extended family. It can be an extended family.