Category Archives: 5. The Adolescent

From age 10 to age 18.

Helping Your Adopted Teen Develop an Identity

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)

The teenage years can be hard on your adopted childParenting during the teenage years is as trying on the young adult as it is on his parents. But if your child was adopted or if you’re fostering, the teenage years can be an especially tough time as your child tries to sort out his identity without knowing his birth parents or understanding the reasons why his birth parents are not a bigger part of his life.

Who Am I? Where Do I Belong?

As the teen years loom, many parents anticipate that their child will have some difficulties, perhaps more so than teens who are living with their birth parents, in answering these questions. Gloria Hochman and Anna Huston list a few questions parents ask themselves in this period of time, which will ultimately prove just as hard on the parents as their child, in their article “Parenting Your Adopted Teen” at Focus Adolescent Services,

  1. Will a sense of abandonment and rejection replace feelings of security and comfort?
  2. Is my child behaving in a way that reflects inner turmoil about the past?
  3. Will being adopted make adolescence harder for my child?

How Can Parents Help?

Nothing about these questions is simple, but Hochman and Huston do have a couple tips that make the teen years easier on your child:

  • Don’t ignore the fact that your child was adopted — Being adopted is an undeniable part of her history, and how she learns to deal with it will continue to impact her in the future.
  • Don’t underestimate your child’s abilities to sort out their own challenges – Trust that your child can successfully confront and resolve his identity issues, as you offer extra support in areas that take on special meaning for him.

These special areas include:

  • Identity formation – Not knowing about her birth parents can make your child question who she really is, and it’s a real challenge as they try to sort out which character traits come from which set of parents. It becomes even more difficult as your teen tries to sort out the traits that are genetic or wants answers to questions you may not have, such as: Where did I get my musical talent? Did everyone in my family have glasses or curly hair? What is my ethnic background? Do I have brothers and sisters?
  • Fear of rejection and abandonment – Your teen may suddenly become afraid of leaving home. Other teens may want to reconnect with their birth families to have their questions answered: Where did I get my writing ability or my height? Did everyone in my family have to deal with acne? Some teenagers may worry, just as their adoptive parents do, that they have a tendency toward an unhealthy behavior or mental illness and would feel more comfortable knowing more about their birth parents’ tendencies.
  • Issues of control and autonomy – This is a normal struggle for all parents and teens, but it may be more intense for your adopted teen who feels, especially, that his life’s direction has always been based on someone else’s decision: His birth mother made the decision to place him for adoption; you made the decision to adopt him.
  • Feelings of not belonging – These feelings arise when your teen cannot identify the source of her traits such as her red hair in an adoptive family of brunettes or a Hispanic ethnicity in a family of Native Americans or an artistic talent in a family of math whizzes. These feelings often first arise as her friends begin to question her differences (or similarities, mistakenly) to her adopted family. If her friends do know that she is adopted, she may struggle with answering questions such as: Who are your real parents, and why didn’t they keep you? These feelings of uncertainty then fall back to their secure feelings toward her adoptive family – she may not feel like a “real” member of the family or that you love her as much as you love (or would have loved) your biological children.
  • Heightened curiosity about the past – Your teen will think more about how his life would have been different had he grown up with their birth parents or had been adopted by another family. This is a healthy exploration of his past and necessary to helping him learn ways of coping with the realizations that some possibilities have been lost.

Parents Need to Be Aware of Their Own Emotions

Parents have their own strong emotions and need to recognize and understand them first before they can support their teen:

  • Anger or frustration at your teen’s anger – Your child may become very angry toward you. He may withdraw, run away, or act-out toward you. Understand that most teens have difficulty in handling anger, and that expressing anger is often the only way any teen knows how to deal with other strong, even more painful, emotions such as disappointment or guilt. For more information on helping your teen deal with anger, see The Attached Family article, “Dealing with an Angry Teen.”
  • Fear about your teen’s past – You may struggle with concerns centering on issues from your child’s past, such as exposure or family history of alcoholism, drug abuse, or mental illness. You may have a heightened fear toward your teen’s sexuality and view of parenthood. You may wonder what would happen if your daughter became pregnant or your son got someone else pregnant – how would their birth mother’s choices influence their choices?
  • Hurt about your teen wanting to seek out her birth family – You may second-guess how you raised her  – did you do a good enough job? Is there a problem in your attachment with her?

Listen, Support, Affirm

Adopted children, even those who have been in their adoptive families since birth and who have secure attachments, can feel a sudden emptiness when they hit the teen years, explain Hochman and Huston. Encourage your child to talk about her feelings and try to support her emotionally, even if you don’t fully understand what she’s going through.

Parents of adopted teens who are struggling with feelings of not belonging in their family, especially those of transracial adoptions, may benefit from learning about their birth family’s ethnicity and culture. Parents can help them celebrate by supporting this quest for information, talking about their feelings as they explore this part of their past, and spending time with other families of the same ethnic background as their teen.

At home, parents of transracially adopted teens – or any adopted teens who are struggling with wanting to belong – can benefit when you point out any similarities between family members, such as “Everyone in our family loves to sleep late on the weekends” or “Mom and you are both cat lovers.”

But, Kenneth Kirby, PhD, of Northwestern University’s School of Medicine’s Department of Clinical Psychiatry in Chicago, says that the most effective technique parents of adopted teens can use is their listening skills. The families where adopted teens will have problems are those where the parents insist that an adopted parent-child relationship is no different than a biological relationship. Teens do better when their parents acknowledge their fears and uncertainties and allow them to express their grief, anger, fear, and other strong emotions.

Families that encourage open communication will have an easier time than others who may have to rely on professional counseling to support their teen. Many states also offer adoptive parent support groups or post-adoption workshops to help parents better connect with teens. It’s the parent’s responsibility to encourage a supportive atmosphere for the teen to discuss his emotions, and especially if open communication is not a norm in your family, you will need to initiate these discussions.

For More Information

“Parents who recognize that their teens have two sets of parents and who don’t feel threatened by that fact are more likely to establish a more positive environment for their teens, one that will make them feel more comfortable to express their feelings,” explain say Hochman and Huston. “Secrets take a lot of energy. When there is freedom to discuss adoption issues, there is much less of a burden on the family.”

Seek Cooperation, Not Control

Because of their own fears and strong emotions, parents have a tendency to want to control their teen’s choices, but Anne McCabe, a post-adoption specialist at Tabor Children’s Services in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, explains that teens need the freedom to develop their personalities and identities: “Kids see it as, ‘You don’t trust me.’”

McCabe advises parents of adopted teens to use positive discipline techniques in working toward solutions to disagreements between the parent and the child. The goal is to build trust between the parent and child. She suggests parents and children work together to identify options in dealing with areas of conflict such as schoolwork, chores, choice of friends, choice of leisure time activities, and curfew. Just as Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish explain in their book, How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk, McCabe explains that the best solutions are those in which both the parent and the teen come to an agreement on what constitutes trustworthy behavior and what the consequences will be of untrustworthy behavior.

Always Consider the Possibility of Professional Help

Parents of adopted teens – especially if they were adopted at an older age – may be confronted with serious challenges such as extremely low self esteem and severe emotional and behavioral difficulties, according to Hochman and Huston. These are often the results of a past of abuse or neglect and broken attachments throughout their young lives as they were moved from foster home to foster home. It can be extremely difficult for them to learn to trust adults who, in their past, were unable to meet their emotional needs and had broken any attachments they once had.

In addition, teens adopted at an older age bring with them the memories of these broken attachments. Hudson and Hochman advise allowing your teen to talk about these memories with you as well as with a professional counselor. Working through the emotions surrounding these memories is essential to getting your child to a point where he will be able to create and maintain emotionally healthy relationships.

Seek out professional help if you observe any of the following behaviors in your son or daughter:

  • Substance or alcohol abuse
  • Troubles in school, such as a drastic drop in grade or skipping classes
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Risk-taking
  • Suicidal threats or attempts.

Abolishing Corporal Punishment of Children

From the Council of Europe

Council of Europe pushing to ban corporal punishmentThe Council of Europe wants a continent free of corporal punishment. Hitting people is wrong — and children are people, too.

To protect children from corporal punishment, the Council of Europe has developed tools for the use of governments, parliaments, local authorities, professional networks, civil society, and more generally, anyone caring for children.

Abolition of corporal punishment has become a global goal.

Criminalizing corporal punishment of children is not about putting parents in jail. Abolishing corporal punishment means promoting positive parenting.

What is Corporal Punishment of Children?

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child defines corporal punishment as “any punishment in which physical force is used and intended to cause some degree of pain or discomfort, however light.”

Most corporal punishment involves hitting — smacking, slapping, spanking — children, with the hand or with an implement. It can also involve kicking, shaking, or throwing children, scratching, pinching, biting, pulling hair or boxing ears, forcing children to stay in uncomfortable positions, burning, scalding, or forced ingestion.

Why Should We Abolish Corporal Punishment of Children?

  1. It is a violation of children’s rights to respect for physical integrity, human dignity, and equal protection under the law.
  2. It can cause serious physical and psychological harm to children.
  3. It teaches children that violence is an acceptable way of resolving conflict.
  4. It is ineffective as a means of discipline. There are positive ways to teach, correct, or discipline children that are better for children’s development and for family relations.
  5. It is more difficult to protect children if corporal punishment is legitimate — this implies that some forms or levels of violence against children are acceptable.

Children are not mini-human beings with mini-human rights.

How Can We Achieve Abolition?

  • Through law reform — introducing an explicit prohibition of all corporal punishment in all settings, including the home; ensuring there are no existing legal defenses that justify corporal punishment by parents or others; and providing guidance on appropriate enforcement of these laws.
  • Through policy measures — ensuring comprehensive prevention policies and effective protection systems are implemented at different levels; and promoting positive, nonviolent forms of child-rearing, conflict resolution, and education.
  • Through awareness — ensuring comprehensive awareness raising of the prohibition of corporal punishment, and of children’s rights in general.

Get Involved
This information is available in a variety of media materials from the Council of Europe. While this campaign is directed toward the European Union, this is a movement meant for all societies and is just as relevant for your community whether you live in London, Munich, Paris, Sydney, or Los Angeles. Click here to see all of the campaign materials that are available to print and pass along.

Dealing with an Angry Teen

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)

Angry teenDo you find yourself getting frustrated with your teen? So does every parent at some time. What about anger – has your relationship with your teen turned into a fight for control, and it seems that all your exchanges with your teen seem to be out of anger? For many parents, this is the sad reality of their relationship with their teenager.

Why So Angry?

According to Christina Botto, author of Help Me with My Teenager!, in her article, “Today’s Angry Teens,” a teenager’s anger is borne out of immature coping skills to daily stress. In addition to seeking independence and less parental control, which results in a stubborn and argumentative adolescent, teens are trying to deal with everyday stress as well as a host of emotional issues including:

  • Changes in their bodies
  • Trying to establish an identity
  • Dealing with friends
  • Positive and negative peer pressure
  • School demands
  • Too many extracurricular activities
  • Parental expectations
  • Feelings of being treated unfairly, such as being accused of something they didn’t do
  • Not getting a chance to voice their opinions to authority figures

In addition, some teens are dealing with high-stress situations such as separation or divorce of their parents or a chronic illness in or death of a loved one.

“It’s no surprise that our teens might become overloaded with stress,” Botto said.

Anger is an Immature Coping Mechanism

If we think about it, adolescents are dealing with these stresses for years. As adults, most of us would have difficulty dealing with these types of emotional stresses long-term, too. Both adults and teens are prone to develop depression in these situations, and while depression is often marked by despair and hopelessness, it can manifest itself as anger.

“Depression and anger are two sides of the same coin. They are the behaviors most used by survivors to cope with their damaged lives,” according to Suicide and Mental Health Association International.

A teen’s anger is borne out of her poor coping skills:

  • Getting angry is a way to feel in control – Botto explains how getting angry is the only way most teens know how to avoid feeling sadness, hurt, or fear.
  • Teens have unreasonable expectations – When a teen is unable to get what he wants when he wants it, he feels out of control, which makes him angry.

Teaching Our Children Healthy Ways to Express Anger

Anger is a healthy, normal emotion if expressed in a way that doesn’t hurt the teen or others around him. But because teens have difficulty in regulating their strong emotions, they may also have difficulty in expressing their anger in an appropriate way. As parents, we need to focus on modeling and teaching our teens how to handle stress – and anger – in a healthy way.

Botto said it’s easy for parents to lose control of their own emotions when dealing with their teen’s anger: “Parents are often caught by surprise and react by either yelling or arguing back, or punishing their teen for showing their anger. Instead, parents need to see this show of anger or rage as a signal that their teen is battling with or facing a situation they cannot handle on their own, or is overwhelmed by the demands of his or her daily live.”

Her advice to parents is to:

  1. Ask your teen what unresolved conflict she is facing.
  2. Listen to your teen.
  3. Focus on her feelings.
  4. Understand the situation from your teen’s perspective.
  5. Help your teen work towards a solution.
  6. Show your teenager that you care.

Danger Signs
Not all teens express their anger in the same way, just as is the case with adults. Parents should be on the lookout for:

  • Withdrawing, which is indicative of a teen who is repressing his emotions and can result in depression and psychosomatic disorders.
  • Turning to alcohol and drugs, or other forms of self-medicating.
  • Defiant or destructive behavior, include violence toward others and self.

If these danger signs develop, your teen may need professional help to resolve his anger issues. Unresolved issues can cause lasting damage to your teen’s critical thinking ability, ability to have a close and loving marital relationship and friendships, and ability to learn how to self regulate his strong emotions.

Parenting Style Matters in Substance Abuse Prevention

By Sadaf Rauf, staff writer for The Attached Family publications

Parenting style matters in substance abuse preventionAdolescent use of illicit drugs and alcohol has become a pervasive problem in contemporary society. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) 2008 survey found that, by the time U.S. adolescents reach 12th grade, 47% have taken an illicit drug and 72% have used alcohol in their lifetime. Of eighth graders, 28% have used an illicit substance and 39% have tried alcohol. To add to the picture, 55% of 12th graders and 18% of eighth graders have reported being drunk at least once in their lives.

Parenting Style Matters

There are certain types of parenting styles that increase the likelihood that adolescents will abuse drugs or alcohol. According to a 2002 University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension “Parenting Style: Does It Matter?” Teen Assessment Project, the “lowest prevalence of teen use of alcohol, tobacco, or marijuana was found for teens who reported that both parents had a democratic parenting style.”

In democratic, more commonly known as Authoritative Parenting, approaches, parents set rules and guidelines that they expect children to follow, but they also recognize that sometimes flexibility is called for. Authoritative parents often express love and affection to their children without fear that such expressions of emotion may affect their ability to discipline. As their children get older, authoritative parents encourage more responsibility and freedom within defined rules. The American Academy of Pediatrics and other children’s health organizations state that children of authoritative parents usually grow up to be independent, socially successful, and respectful of authority. Continue reading Parenting Style Matters in Substance Abuse Prevention

Parenting Style Changes Gene Expression

From API’s Communications Team

DNAResearch has, for many years, shown that the way a child is parented will physically shape his brain — that each interaction, good or bad, will create pathways within the brain as a reflection of the emotions surrounding that interaction. And that a pattern of neglect or abuse will shape the brain differently than will a consistently loving, attachment-promoting relationship.

Now, a new study published in a February 2009 issue of Nature Neuroscience — as reported in the The New York Times article, “After Abuse, Changes in the Brain — shows that, in addition to shaping the brain, patterns of interaction change the way a person’s genes are expressed.

Researchers at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, have found for at least ten years that affectionate mothering alters the expression of genes in animals. These changes in the genetic code are then passed on to the next generation. For the first time, there is direct evidence that the same happens in human DNA. McGill researchers report that people who were abused or neglected as children had genetic alterations that made them more biologically sensitive to stress.

McGill teamed up with the Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences to compare the brains of 12 people who had difficult childhoods before  committing suicide with the brains of 12 people who did not suffer abuse or neglect as children.

When humans are under stress, the hormone cortisol circulates and puts the body in a state of anxiety. One way the brain reduces this response is to make receptors on brain cells that help clear the cortisol, reducing the feeling of distress and protecting neurons from the damaging effects of extended exposure to cortisol.

Researchers found that the genes that code these receptors were 40 percent less active in people who had difficult childhoods than those who did not.

There is still speculation as to why some people with difficult childhoods are able to regulate stress more easily while others are not. Possibilities include individual genetic differences or an individual’s ability to connect with other people who help stabilize his stress response.

To read this entire article, go to:

When ‘D’ Meets ‘S’: The Role of Personality in Parenting

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)

Mother and sonThrough Attachment Parenting, we learn how truly powerful a close emotional relationship with our children can be. But even with the strongest of bonds, conflict will arise between parents and their children. As children grow, AP focuses more and more on how we, as parents, resolve conflict — in a gentle, positive manner that promotes influence, guidance, and teaching rather than control.

Much of the root of conflict resolution resides in our own selves – in dealing with our own unresolved hurts and biases, as well as finding personal balance, so that we can control the urge to jump to conclusions and react without thinking. And so that we can have the courage to stop in the moment, take a deep breath, and think about how to control our default thinking to be able to react with compassion instead of anger and defensiveness.

Another important piece of this puzzle is understanding how personality differences play into both conflict and conflict resolution. Think about what is most likely to create conflict between you and your spouse or partner: Often, isn’t it because you two do the same thing in different ways? My husband and I encounter this all the time. I am much more detail-oriented than my husband and sometimes don’t understand why he doesn’t see the crumbs on the table, while he wonders why I care so much about the crumbs. The same situation can happen between you and a child who doesn’t see the world in the same way.

Personality Assessments as a Way to Get to Know Your Child Better

The point of discovering your child’s personality traits is not to put a label on him, or to try to compartmentalize the reason behind his actions. Instead, it is another way for parents to get to know their child more — to discover what makes him tick. Continue reading When ‘D’ Meets ‘S’: The Role of Personality in Parenting

“Giving the Love that Heals,” an interview with attachment therapist Harville Hendrix

Happy Valentine's DayDear Readers,

Click here to download your free gift from API.

As promised in the Winter 2008-09 Healing Childhood Wounds issue of The Journal of API — as a followup to the article “The 11th Commandment” — this free audio download is the full version of API Co-founder Barbara Nicholson’s interview with Imago Relationship Therapy Founder Harville Hendrix.

The author of Giving the Love that Heals, Harville’s words are inspiring and motivating — a true reminder that everyday should be Valentine’s Day. You do not want to miss this interview!

Happy Valentine’s Day from API…

~ Rita Brhel, editor of The Attached Family publications

(If you have trouble downloading the file, contact me at

Children of ‘High Conflict’ Custody Battles Tend to Suffer More Emotionally

From API’s Publications Team

EmotionsCustody cases are rarely pleasant, but in about 10 percent of these cases, it truly becomes a battle between the estranged parents and the long-term effects on their children’s mental wellbeing can be devastating.

According to an article on, “Video Offers Advice to Divorcing Parents,” research at the Massachusetts General Hospital show that 65 percent of children involved in high conflict custody cases — or about 10 percent of all custody cases — experience clinical symptoms of anxiety, which manifested in a variety of ways such as physical aggression, sleep disorders, depression, bedwetting, becoming sexually active prematurely, and even dissociation.

What is Dissociation?

Dissociation is the psychiatric term to describe there is a splitting off of a group of mental processes from the main body of consciousness, as what happens with amnesia and some forms of hysteria.

Furthermore, 56 percent of the children of high conflict custody cases develop attachment disorders that leave them unable to form friendships with others in fear of being abandoned.

“In a sense, there is a neglect,” said family court Judge Elaine Gordon in the video she co-created, Putting Children First: Minimizing Conflict in Custody Disputes. “Because parents who are fighting are not capable of emotionally caring for their children.”

To read the entire article, go to

Canada Judge Reverses Custody in Case of Parental Alienation

From API’s Publications Team

GavelCanadian parents who have been the target of parental alienation that is negatively affecting their attachment to their children now have the courts on their side. According to an article on, “Courts Can Rescue Kids From an Alienating Parent,” judges in Canada are now willing to intervene in such custody cases and remove children from homes of the alienating parent even if it’s against the child’s wishes.

What is Parental Alienation?

Parental alienation is tactics used by one parent to systematically poison the minds of the children against the other parent. For more information, read these articles from the DIVORCED & SINGLE PARENTING section:

The concern is that there is no scientific proof that this intervention to resolve parental alienation cases works.  The support for custody reversal is the studies that reveal what will happen if parental alienation is left to continue unchecked. Children grow up to experience feelings of guilt toward the alienated parent and anger toward the alienating parent, to the point where these emotional traumas negatively affects their relationships with others.

Earlier in January, an Ontario judge stripped a mother of the custody of her three children, ages 9-14, and limited her access to the children to no closer than 300 meters unless in a counseling session. The father had fought for 10 years for custody away from the woman who was trying to excommunicate him from their children’s lives. The father now has the right to take away the children’s cell phones and other devices to prevent communication with their mother, and to remove them from the country in search of counseling.

Eventually, the goal is for the mother to have less restrictive access and communication with the children and for the children to have a positive relationship with both parents. However, the interventions and counseling are to help the child figure out their true feelings toward both parents.

An Example of Parental Alienation

Author Richard Warshak describes a severe case:

During the custody trial, an 18-year-old child threatened violence against his mother if the judge awarded her custody. Today, the child admits that these threats were not his true feelings but what he had been brainwashed to say and think.

This is only the third such ruling in Canada’s history. The first two occurred in Ontario in 1989 and in Quebec in 1991.

“There is a greater understanding that the courts really hold the power to rescue the children from the situation of being caught in the middle,” said Richard Warshak, author of Divorce Poison and coordinator of a workshop that helps alienated parents reunite with their children. In the judgment, Madam Justice Faye McWatt wrote that the mother’s “unrelenting behavior toward the children is tantamount to emotional abuse.”

None of the children wanted to live with their father, but it was determined that the children, even the teen, were unable to think clearly about what they wanted because they had been brainwashed by their mother.

“The Canadian courts are in the forefront,” said Warshak of Dallas, Texas.

But making rulings in parental alienation cases will continue to be a slow process. Child psychologist Barbara Fidler, who had been involved with the family for many years, said professionals involved in these cases need time to assess the situation and to try less drastic measures such as parenting plans and visitation changes.

“There are some cases of what we call realistic estrangement,” Fidler said. “The alienated parent may be abusive, and the child has good reason for not wanting to visit. And then there is true pathological alienation, in which children are refusing contact without good reason.”

This latest ruling is giving hope to parents targeted by parental alienation, who say the tide appears to be turning.

“There was a period of time when people thought that if you did anything to sever that attachment between the child and the favored parent — that is, the allegedly toxic parent — that could cause more harm than any good,” said Jeffery Wilson, a family lawyer specializing in child advocacy.

To read the entire article, go to

Every Parent-Child Interaction Shapes the Brain

By Amber Lewis, staff writer for The Attached Family

Pathways in the brain created by neurons
Pathways in the brain created by neurons

Humans all begin the exact same way. We start our life out as a zygote, the fertilized egg in our mother’s uterus, 46 chromosomes that will determine everything from eye color to height and that help to influence our intelligence and who we are individually. By the fourth week of pregnancy, the zygote has turned into an embryo and will begin developing what will become its brain.

The brain begins as the ectoderm, which is the top layer of the now three-layered embryo, and will develop into the neural tube which will close by week six. At ten weeks gestation, the new brain will begin forming neurons at the rate of 250,000 per minute, according to the article “Fetal Development: What Happens During the First Trimester?” on At the 16th week, the fetus’ eyes are becoming sensitive to light, and at week 18, the fetus can hear. By the 28th week, the fetus’ eyes open.

Parenting Begins In Utero

Why does this matter? Many mothers believe that their interactions with their unborn child can have an impact. Some parents even go so far as to parent in utero — reading and talking to their unborn child, already loving their baby deeply before even meeting him face to face. Research now shows what these parents already knew; parents influence their child’s psychological development from very early on. Continue reading Every Parent-Child Interaction Shapes the Brain