Is This Adoption Trauma or My Teen Just Being a Teen?

Your teen is moody. They are staying in their room a lot and snapping at you when you suggest coming out and being social or just having a conversation with them. They prefer to be with their friends then with you, or, they don’t even have friends. They are not interested in hobbies or after school activities. Is this normal adolescence or something deeper from the traumas they experienced with adoption? Does this need to be addressed professionally? I don’t know what to do…If any of this is familiar, read on.

This time of life is tough for any teen (AND parent) to go through. There are definitely some normal behaviors here, especially if they are short-term. However, it is important to remember that when you have a teen you adopted, whether at birth or as a teen, trauma is always beneath the surface, whether it is dormant or awake. It is common for parents to face the dilemma of discerning “normal” teen angst from a more serious problem.

The advice in the literature with which we concur is to err on the side of caution. You know your child best, and you should trust your instincts to find your child help if your Spidey Senses tell you it’s time. It is recommended you seek out a therapist who is trauma certified or informed. This is usually a distinction in their description of types of therapy or treatment approaches. If they self-describe as “adoption- competent” or have experience working with children who are adopted, that is even more desirable. Therapists who can speak the “language of adoption” can connect with adopted children.

A hurdle some parents face is getting their child on board with treatment, which is sometimes a struggle. We recommend that you do not wait until a crisis arises, as that is when a child is the least open to suggestion. Also, refrain from implying the issues are related to adoption. Teens usually don’t know how their feelings are related to adoption and that may impede acceptance of treatment.

The Adoption and Foster Care Team at JFS can assist you in finding a therapist who would suit the needs of your child. Reach out to us @ 717-233-1681 or check out our website. 


Bryna Sherr is a Permanency Coordinator in JFS' Adoption and Foster Care program as well as 
a Therapist in Mynd Works Counseling.

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