November is Adoption Awareness Month: A Focus on Adopted Teens

Adolescence is a challenging time for any teenager.

Puberty launches their bodies and brains into a radical series of changes during the transition from youth to adulthood.

Powerful hormones course through their bodies as the part of their brain responsible for rational decision-making and impulse control – the prefrontal cortex – develops the capacity to manage the intense drive to seek out new experiences, feel new sensations, and take risks they never would have considered before adolescence.

Teenagers form, transform, discard, and re-form identities on a variety of levels: personal, social, sexual, political, psychological – everything about them might change from one day to the next, one week to the next, or one month to the next.

They may cycle through different versions of themselves at a rate that perplexes adults, until we take a step back remember we were all there once. And if we really think back to when we were teenagers, and we can – with some effort – remember exactly what it’s like.

These changes can be difficult for any teenager. Adopted kids are no different. They go through the same things that all non-adopted kids go through.

But there’s a valid question here: when they become teenagers, do adopted kids face a set of challenges distinct from those faced by non-adopted kids?

The short answer is yes, they do. This series of articles on adoption and teens will outline the major issues common to all adopted kids, especially as they pertain to adolescence.

But first, as a primer, this article will off the basic statistics on the prevalence of adoption in the U.S.

Adoption in the USA: Facts and Figures

We want to give you an idea of exactly the kinds of numbers we’re talking about. Chances are you knew someone in school who was adopted, or now that you’re an adult, you have friends who adopted kids of their own.

Adoption is common – but how common?

You’re about to find out.

Key Adoption Stats: United States

Sources: The Adoption Network, The Adoption Council, The Children’s Action Network, The Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare

  • About 7 million people in the U.S. are adopted.
  • Roughly 1.5 million of those people are children, accounting for around 1 in every 50 kids in the U.S.
  • Close to 110,000 children were adopted in 2014, down from 140,000 in 2007. Of these, about…
    • 59% come from foster homes or the child welfare system
    • 37% were adopted by relatives
    • 26% were adopted from other countries
    • 15% were put up for adoption voluntarily by U.S. citizens
  • Over 18,000 infants were adopted in 2014
    • 62% of adopted infants were placed with adoptive parents within a month of birth
  • The average age at adoption is 5 years old.
  • The average age of a child in foster care waiting for adoption is 8 years old.
  • Close to 100 million Americans have adoption in their immediate family – that’s about 31% of our total population

Those are the latest adoption figures available.

Surprised at those numbers? Did you know how many families have at least one adopted family member?

Most people are, because adoption is far more common than most people realize. And if you are surprised, what probably surprises you most is that the statistics say there’s probably an adopted child or adult in your circle of family, friends, and peers.

They’re a lot closer to you than you think.

Why Knowing Matters

You don’t have to treat adopted kids – or adults that were adopted and are now grown – any differently than anyone else. It does help to know if someone is adopted, however. Especially if they’re teens, and especially if they’re close to you or your children. If you’re a teacher, a school administrator, volunteer, or coach, the knowledge can help you understand what theses teens might be going through, and how the issues they face can create psychological, social, and emotional challenges unique to teens who’ve been adopted.

Now that you have an idea about the prevalence of adoption in the U.S., it’s time to learn about the issues they face. We’ll discuss those in the next article in this series, coming soon: Adoption Awareness Month: Challenges for Adopted Teens.