Many teens that are adopted or fostered have a huge sense of loss. This loss is a springboard to many other complex issues such as an identity crisis.
Not knowing where they originated from, as in cases where a child was left abandoned, leaves a teen with emotions and thoughts of being outcast and unwanted. Whether you are an adoptive or foster parent, you can give all the love in the world and they would still feel empty and lost and rejected. Those emotions are multiplied when that teen compares themselves to their family and other cultures and comes to the conclusion that they don’t belong with anyone.
Such was the case for my daughter who has dark hair, tan skin, and appearing as a mix of Arab, Asian, European, and Polynesian. Now add the fact that she has parents who are Irish/Swiss and white. Talk about standing out in a crowd.
With those very obvious differences, it came with some very strong feelings of being outside of the family instead of within. So what does a teen do? They go on an identity hunt looking for a place where they do fit in.
Now we may think, okay, let them dress like another culture or talk with a southern accent even though they act like a Northerner. But it isn’t quite that simple. An abandonment issue and an identity crisis go hand in hand with each other which create a strong emotional pain. Moreover, it is carried into every facet of their life.
When a teen is at that point of not knowing who they are and wanting to belong to someone, they will go to extremes to be the total opposite of the very family caring for them. For some, that extreme can lead them to associate with a sub-culture that relates to their emotional state.
In our situation, our daughter looked for anything that was appealing to her issues. The Goth culture was inviting because it represented the dark side of how she felt. They were described as free thinkers, loners and to themselves. She was comfortable with that. She already felt different from others and those in the Goth society certainly are different.
After the Goth period, she went to the Emo Culture. Not as dark, however, they did present a family oriented culture among themselves. Most Emo’s came from broken homes. They looked out for each other being depressed and emotionally wounded together. Many of them cut as a form of relieving the pain that they are going through. Our daughter certainly understood that pain and was already self-harmed.
For our family, the best option was to take a DNA test to find her origins. We wanted her to be proud of her heritage and to accept who she was. I carefully looked into her background regarding her nationality and exposed her slowly to what I knew. What information I knew that was not good, I encouraged her to be an example of the positive side of her culture.
More importantly, I wanted her to see that she was created by God who saw her as a gift, something precious that He specifically created for His plan and purpose. Through time, she was able to accept her origins and identify who she was in Christ instead of a sub-culture. Even today, she shared how she was proud of who she was and has left a lot of the sub-cultures behind.
So if you have a teen who is struggling in this area, encourage them to research and understand their culture. Find ways to incorporate their origins into holidays and birthday’s. Connect with people of the same nationality so that the teen can be a part of something that has been in their generations. Most importantly, let them know that God did not create them to be abandoned with no identity. They can find their identity through Him. After all, He is the one that designed them.
Your teen can also benefit by counseling and encouragement by you as they mature and grow. Working together as a family, this will draw your teen to bond in a closer relationship because they will see you actively participating in something that they care about. By embracing their origin, you are embracing them.