Causes of Behavioral Issues in Adopted Teens

Adopted teenagers have a significant risk of developing disruptive behaviors that cause social, emotional, or relationship problems compared to non-adopted children. You might wonder if your adopted teen has issues that will ever heal or whether they will form a strong bond with family members. Many adoptive parents worry they are not doing enough to help their children acclimate to their new living situation. Havenwood Academy can help adopted teens heal from traumas or stress contributing to behavioral issues. Additionally, we provide resources to educate parents and families.

Are Behavioral Issues “Normal” for Adopted Teens?

According to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), “Adoption adds complexity to the normal development of teenagers.” Children feel the impact of adoption “regardless of whether they were adopted as infants or when they were older.” In addition, they may feel grief and loss over their birth family or former life, or have difficulty creating a healthy self-identity. Issues during the adoption process or separation from their biological parents can cause further hardship in the complex physiological changes that take place during the teenage years.

A significant percentage of adopted children develop behavioral issues. However, the symptoms and severity of behavioral problems vary significantly. The most significant risk factors for developing behavioral issues include:

  • Childhood abuse or neglect
  • Being adopted as a teenager
  • Untreated trauma or mental health disorders

Behavioral problems are not a “normal” part of the adoption process. Although many adoptive and foster parents encounter them, you should not discount behavioral issues because they are “expected.” Instead, you should endeavor to provide unconditional love and get your child professional mental health treatment. Give them access to the help they need to feel safer and more comfortable. In some cases, this involves treatment at a facility like Havenwood Academy.

The Most Common Causes of Behavioral Issues in Adopted Teens

Trauma, an inconsistent home life, and lack of parental guidance are common causes of behavioral issues in adopted teens. Your daughter may act like she does not respect you as an authority figure. On the other hand, she may be submissive and fear upsetting you. As an adoptive parent, you will need to learn to look for clues that indicate the underlying cause of your child’s behavioral issues so that you can get them the proper help to recover.

Trauma, including abuse and neglect, can affect emotional and mental development. Early childhood trauma or adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) could have given your adopted daughter a flawed understanding of how social relationships and family dynamics should work. She may feel unable to trust authority figures or choose to do things independently to avoid relying on others.

How Can You Support Your Adopted Teen?

You can help your adopted teen grow by providing them with a loving and nurturing home environment that encourages accountability, personal growth, and healthy interpersonal relationships. Other ways you can support them include:

  • Actively listening to them and their needs
  • Support their exploration of self-identity
  • Provide consistent expectations
  • Love them unconditionally while holding them responsible for their actions

Prove to your adopted daughter through your actions that you love her and have her best interests at heart. This takes time, but you can get there with empathy and patience.

Girls and Young Women Recovering From Trauma

Over half of all adopted girls have experienced some form of sexual violence. This can lead to unique behavioral issues, including:

  • Trauma-related mental health disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Hypersexuality
  • Dressing, acting, or talking in an inappropriate and sexually suggestive way
  • Attachment issues
  • Eating disorders
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Social isolation and social anxiety or specific phobias

Many children are unlikely to disclose sexual abuse if they feel unsafe, which means there may be no record of sexual abuse upon adoption. According to the HHS, “Children who have been sexually abused also may . . . express feelings or sexual impulses that are odd, excessive, aggressive, or explicit.”

Behavioral issues, including extreme mood swings, depressive symptoms, and angry outbursts, can indicate past sexual abuse. Adoptive children with reactive attachment disorder (RAD) may have difficulty understanding healthy boundaries. Contact a mental health professional if you believe your child may have experienced undisclosed sexual violence.

Behavioral Issues Do Not Mean You Are Doing Something Wrong

It’s easy to feel guilty or ashamed if your children display behavioral issues at home or in public. You might blame yourself or think you are not doing enough to help your child feel safe. However, your child’s behavioral issues do not indicate that you are doing anything wrong or have failed as an adoptive parent. Continue to model choices and actions that show them they are safe. With the help of professional mental health therapy, your child can learn to trust again. Overcoming behavioral issues can take time, but your teen is capable of fully recovering from any mental health issues.

Behavioral issues can take many forms and have various underlying causes, including sexual abuse, neglect, and high-risk behaviors. Adopted teenagers have a higher risk of developing behavioral issues if they have untreated traumas or other mental health issues that make it difficult for them to regulate their emotions. You can support your adopted teen’s recovery by providing a nurturing and loving environment where they feel safe and secure. Havenwood Academy offers evidence-based treatment plans for adopted teen girls struggling with behavioral issues that affect their quality of life. Your daughter can get the treatment she needs to address any underlying problems that have caused them to act out. To learn more, call us at (435) 586-2500.


Think Havenwood Might Be For You?

We encourage any visitors considering placing their daughter in treatment to fill out our online assessment as soon as possible. This two minute form will give our admissions team all the information needed to determine if your daughter is a good fit for our program.