Katie Naftzger, LICSW

family therapist, author, adoption specialist, consultant

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Another Survival Issue For Adopted Teens

Suicide – Another Survival Issue For Adopted Teens

I’ve described the adoption story for some as one of survival. Adoptees survived a tenuous situation that others did not. Adoptees will often go to great lengths not to be abandoned again.

Originally, they feared not being taken care of and getting their basic needs met. As children, that fear was mostly directed at their adoptive parents and caretakers. Mostly, they held adults responsible for how their life unfolded. Coming to terms with this experience was focused on accepting the lack of control that they had in their lives.

“It wasn’t your fault,” adults would say. “There was nothing that you could have done.” They were dependent on the kindness of strangers. And, for the most part, their life was out of their hands.

But now things are a little bit different. Adopted teens are approaching adulthood. And, although their parents continue to hold a prominent role in their life, adopted teens recognize that they now have a lot more power and control.

Now, their life is in their hands.

Adopted teens go from too little to too much control, both of which can be terrifying. Part of growing up is learning that you have more power over yourself and your own life than anyone else. This awareness can feel overwhelming for many adopted teens and, for some, unbearable.

Suicidality is also centered on survival. I would argue that for some adopted teens, suicidality becomes part of their continuing story as a survivor.

Research tells us that adopted teens are four times more likely to make a suicide attempt. In order to better understand what they’re going through, it’s not enough to ask, “Are you feeling suicidal?” Their relationship to suicidality cannot be distilled down to a “yes” or a “no” answer.

Themes that may shed some light on why adopted teens are at higher risk are survival, mental health, anger and identity. As an adoptive parent, you’re faced with the daunting task of being informed but not consumed by the life and death stakes of this topic. Perhaps a part of you is summoning that old saying, “If it ain’t broke, why fix it? They’re fine!” Some fear that putting suicide on the table, even in unspoken ways, may encourage it somehow. I understand that concern but that hasn’t been my experience. Eight out of ten people considering suicide give some sign of their intentions. Raising your awareness is less risky in the long run.

Learn more about this topic “Parenting In the Eye of the Storm: The Adoptive Parent’s Guide to Navigating the Teen Years.” Available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Jessica Kingsley Publishers.