The Mental Health of the Adopted Teen

Adopted Teen

In recent years, there has been focus on how the quality of attachment between an infant and a caregiver can affect that infant’s psychological future. For this reason, researchers have begun to look closely at the types of relationships caregivers have with their children and how that plays a significant role in that child’s later life.

Research on this subject began in the 1940’s when psychiatrist John Bowlby was asked to write about the psychological difficulties homeless and orphaned children experience. A theory on attachment grew from Bowlby significant research on the deprivation of maternal care. Attachment theory describes the long-term relationships between individuals by looking the relationship an infant has with its primary caregiver.

A significant advancement in this research took place in the early 1980’s when psychologist Mary Ainsworth theorized four types of relationship patterns. It is believed that certain components of all relationships have their roots in early attachment experiences. For example, those who did not experience a secure attachment with a caregiver may develop sensitivity to rejection in later relationships.

Certainly, when investigating the mental health of teens and adolescents who have been adopted, their early attachment experiences are worth taking into account. Essentially, if a secure attachment is not formed, which is frequent among those who were adopted early in life, children can have behavioral, academic, social, and/or emotional difficulties in adolescence and in adulthood. Children with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), Bipolar Disorder (BD), Conduct Disorder (CD), or teen Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), for example, tend to display attachment issues.

A recent article published by CNN describes the story of a mother who adopted a child from Bulgaria. The moment the child arrived to her home in Atlanta, GA, he couldn’t stand being out of her sight. The young boy clung onto her and became temperamental whenever she left the house or was out of his line of vision. It is not uncommon for adopted children and teens to exhibit psychological symptoms of attachment issues, along with signs of depression and anxiety.

Research shows that many adopted children tend to develop a mental health diagnosis. In fact, a 2008 study compared about 500 adopted and non-adopted children and found that the odds of having an ADHD or Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) diagnosis were approximately twice as high in adoptees compared with non-adoptees.

This can be even more problematic when adoption agencies hide information and mislead parents who are leaning towards adopting. Then, when adopted children begin to exhibit mental health symptoms, parents may not know how to respond. Furthermore, they may not have made the decision to adopt if they knew that their child might develop a mental illness.

The mental health of adopted children is becoming more and more significant, particularly because the number of adoptions in the United States continues to rise. According to the National Council For Adoption, there were 130,269 domestic adoptions in 2002, whereas in 1996 there were 108,463 domestic adoptions.

The United States 2000 Census indicated that nearly 1.6 million children and teenagers under 18 years old in the United States and Puerto Rico are adopted. This is a significant portion of American youth. Understanding the mental health of these children and teens, particularly their early attachment experiences, is becoming essential in supporting their overall well being.

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