Updated: May 31, 2021
By Dillon International and Koi Longcrier (Teen Virtual Group Participant)
Finding your people is a challenge for everyone. Where do we fit in this world, and who are people we feel safe to connect with? These are things I think we will always be looking for. In adolescents that search seems to be especially strong, as we start branching away from the family unit to find our outside network of community. All while still having the safety of our family to come back to for support.
For adolescents who have been adopted this journey can be harder than maybe for those that have not been adopted. They don’t have all the answers to their past that their peers have, and possibly unlike their peers, they may not look like their family unit. Their family story is different than most of their peers. They get questions such as “Are they your real parents?” or ”You might be Asian on the outside, but you are white on the inside,” reminding them that they are different. Reminding them that even though they are part of the community, they might never fully fit into that community.
Especially now as racism talks are all around us, with increased hate being shown on the news daily. This might be new news to those who are white, but this hate is not new to your child who might be getting microagressions daily. An adoptee can wonder, in all of this where do I fit? “I am Asian or Haitian but I was not raised in that culture, so how do I feel when being around others of my same race?” Maybe their home town understands their family story but the outside world only sees them by how they look. Questions like these can be hard for anyone to answer, and especially hard for an adolescent brain.
So how do you help your adolescent navigate all these emotions? First, be there and listen! Don’t try to fix it. You won’t understand what it is like. Recognize your privilege with not understanding those complex emotions around race and heritage. You can’t fix this. You can listen though, and believe that what they are feeling is real.
Second, find them their safe space. Get them plugged into a group that has other adolescents who have experienced similar things. Not feeling alone can be one of the most powerful mental health tools for this age group, leading to confidence and identity building relationships.
Dillon provides a virtual hangout for teens, here is one teen personal experience with joining the group.
"The adoptee group zoom meetings have been incredible for me. Everyone has been welcoming and friendly. I have never had a community with other kids like me before and I think that is one of the best advantages of being part of the group. Being able to be surrounded by people my age who also experience the same things as me and also appreciate who they are as Asian adoptees has given me more confidence in who I am. Dillon even was kind enough to give us gift boxes of Asian snacks to celebrate AAPI month. I have never had someone who cares as much as she does about my identity and culture outside of my family and a few close friends. I enjoy the atmosphere of the calls because everyone is relaxed and just genuinely having a good time. We have some wacky discussions but that just adds to the fun of the calls. Everyone in the group has different personalities and each one comes out in the call. I have enjoyed getting to know everyone and making new friends. I joined the group later than most but that did not affect how I was treated. The group has been one of the highlights of my week and I look forward to the call every Wednesday. Thank you to everyone in the call who has welcomed me and become my friend and thank you to Ms. Lisa who deals with our craziness and to everyone else at Dillon International who is able to make this group possible."
Adolescent years can be tough on everyone, especially on kids who might be struggling to find their community. Know that, as a parent, it is never too late to help them find their people. Invest in your child’s future by giving them support even if they don’t ask for it. We can say from experience that most teens will not want to join a group where they don’t know anyone. Have them try it anyway. Sign them up for a heritage camp, teen adoption support group, or adoption community gathering. Attend local cultural community events or take them to places where they are around others that look like them. They may not be excited right away, but it might end up being the best thing for them in the long run. As maybe for the first time in their identity exploration, they will have another peer say those powerful words “Me too.”