The “Six Stuck Spots”

Teen being bullied

Beneath the Mask: Understanding Adopted Teens
by Debbie Riley, L.C.M.F.T.


  • “I’m not like most kids…my family is different.”
  • “I’m adopted, not everyone is adopted like me.”
  • “I don’t look like my family.”
  • “I don’t share my family’s cultural or racial heritage.”

Reason for Adoption

  • “Why was I given away? Was something wrong with me?”
  • “My birth parents used drugs, abused or neglected me, etc. What does this mean about me?”
  • “Why couldn’t my birth parents solve their problems and keep me?”

Missing Information

  • “What do my birth parents look like?”
  • “What’s my real birthday, why was I abandoned?”
  • “My birth mother wasn’t sure who my birth father was.”


  • “Who am I? Am I more like my adoptive parents or birth parents?”
  • “How can I figure out who I am when I don’t know much about my birth parents?”
  • “I’m not white like my family. Why won’t adults of my race accept me?”


  • “I’ll upset my adoptive parents if I ask too many questions about my birth parents.”
  • “Things were bad in my birth family, but I love my mom and grandmother and may want to see them one day.”
  • “I worry about my siblings who are in different placements.”


  • “If my birth parents gave me away, it could happen again.”
  • “I’ve lived in so many foster homes, I’m sure I’ll be moved again.”
  • “I’ll be 18 soon. Will my parents still be there for me after I leave home?”
A message to parents from Ms. Riley:
It is important that as parents you keep the lines of communication open with your teen as they embark upon this arduous journey. There will be days of frustration as you reach out and they push away. Don’t give up, hang in there and know that they do hear you. My experience in supporting adoptive parents of teens is that intuitively you are aware of the role adoption may play in the developmental phase of adolescents. For some of your teens they may need the support of an adoption competent mental health professional. I encourage you to be proactive and seek services early and not wait until there is a crisis. Reach out to other adoptive families to learn where effective supports are in your community.

Debbie Riley, LCMFT is the CEO of the Center for Adoption Support and Education serving foster and adoptive families in the Washington DC metropolitan area. To learn more about C.A.S.E and resources that are available to you visit


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