BEYOND BRIGHT? MAYBE
by Caryl Harvey
just watched a TV ad campaign for adoption. It featured an older couple beaming as a teenager opens a present—a gaudy
sweater just like the older woman’s, complete with appliqué butterfly. The ad tells the “Boomer” generation
that we don’t have to be perfect; there are thousands of teens out there who’d love to put up with us.
Well, yes…and no.
Teens are a difficult bunch to parent.
Add to that the behavioral and emotional issues brought on by years in the foster care system and you have a real challenge.
And kids are different these days…in some ways more sophisticated, but without the common sense experience brings. This
is a spectator generation.
Biologically, kids are wired to rebel during
their teens. If you’ve raised your own, you know that. They dye their hair blue, pierce their noses and get tattoos.
We parents console ourselves that the behavior will pass. It does pass, too, but not before it tests the limits of a parent’s
sense of humor.
Kids from dysfunctional homes learn maladaptive
behaviors they may not even understand. Sisters we fostered for a year loved to put on the air conditioning, cover the windows,
and themselves, with blankets and watch old movies they had seen many times. It was a comfort issue, they said. Perhaps. But
their family was deeply involved in drug use. They spent a lot of time hiding out. Years later, the girls still enjoy sitting
in front of the air conditioning wearing hoodie sweatshirts.
And these same dysfunctional families can
trigger severe emotional or personality disorders in kids: things like Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Reactive Attachment
Disorder and Depression among others. These are behaviors which require counseling and/or medication.
So if we take these teens into our homes
expecting them to be grateful and compliant…in short, a joy to live with, we’re sorely deluded. Will they be happy
to finally be in a stable home? Probably. But some kids don’t feel safe unless they’re in a constant state of
chaos. They bring it with them wherever they go. And trust won’t come easy to them. They’ll push the limits again
and again just to see if we’ll break and send them back.
There is a positive side of adopting
teens. We aren’t committing ourselves to ten years or more of parent teacher conferences and deferred vacations. Make
no mistake, we’ll be parenting them well into their young adult years, but just not as vigorously.
And teens can be fun. It is exciting to see a young girl pick out her first prom formal. It’s heartwarming to watch a boy
score his first touchdown in high school football, knowing that without you he would never have had the opportunity to play.
It all comes down to expectations. Trauma
changes children, and all kids who have been separated from their families have been traumatized. Seniors have limited energy
and endurance. Parenting troubled children takes both. We need to budget our
physical resources. If someone has had no children of their own, I would be a bit leery of taking on a teen permanently. (And
adoption is permanent. Adoptive children have equal rights with biological children, even to inheritance.)
If you want to make a difference for a
child, try foster care first. Become certified and take the teen on that basis. The training you’ll receive will be
invaluable and you’ll have a “breaking-in” period to know if you really want to commit to raising someone
else’s child. Then, if you do decide to adopt, most expenses will be covered by the foster care agency, and you’ll
have the support of professionals if you need it.
Should senior Americans adopt teens? The
answer is “absolutely” if we know what we’re getting into. We
can give them boundaries to keep them safe, and traditions to give them a sense of belonging. We can give them love to cover
all their—and our—imperfections. We can give them the chance to bloom into adults who will NOT be dependent upon
the welfare system. And we can give them the benefit of our life experiences…something younger parents can’t offer.
I’m just not so sure about giving
a teen an appliquéd sweater.