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How Happy Are Adopted Children?

Successful Adoptions: A Well-Kept Secret?

These positive findings seem to contradict those of some older studies on adoption, which indicated that adopted people had a higher rate of problems than nonadopted people. Why the discrepancy? Here's the primary reason.

Older studies on adoption (and even a few newer ones) almost invariably lumped together kids who were adopted as infants with kids who lived in troubled situations (sometimes for years) before they were adopted. These included kids who were abused, for example, or kids who were shuffled from foster home to foster home until they were finally adopted when they were 10 or 11 years old or older.

Children who were adopted as foster children are usually children with heavy emotional baggage. They are very different from kids who are adopted as infants! But too many researchers group all adopted children or adults together.

Another problem is that many other older studies contain subtle biases against adoptive parents or adopted children and adults. For example, in 1960, psychiatrist Marshall Schecter conducted a study that has been misunderstand and is still, unfortunately, cited frequently. In a population of 120 child mental patients, Dr. Schecter noted that 16 had been adopted, or 13 percent. This 13 percent statistic was mistakenly interpreted by some researchers to mean that 13 percent of all adopted people are mentally ill, an error Dr. Schecter himself tried to correct.

Another complicating factor in the Schecter study and others is that researchers didn't differentiate between problems that children had that may have been related to adoption versus problems related to nonadoption issues.

Some of the adoptive parents in the Schecter study were given bad advice that contributed to (if not caused) problems the children were experiencing; for example, a pediatrician told one family adopting a 14-month-old child to force toilet training immediately. (Most experts today don't push potty training at such a young age.) It's not surprising the child had trouble with potty training and with adjustment into her family. Had she been born to the family and had they pursued potty training with the same zealotry, it's likely she would have also experienced problems.

What I'm trying to say here is that many of the myths surrounding adoption—that adopted children do not thrive or that all adopted families are unhappy—can be traced back to flawed research or unfounded generalizations. Adoption isn't perfect. But millions of Americans have used adoption to create happy, successful, and loving families.

Media Bias

Some suggest that another reason adopted children may get a bad rap is because the media has a bias against adoption. In 1988, Dr. George Gerbner, a researcher at the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Pennsylvania, found evidence of negative bias against adopted children in many movies and TV shows. He found that these programs often portrayed adopted kids as “problem children”—drug addicts, victims, and so on. Unfortunately, many people get their ideas about adoption from such shows. Do you really think that life is like a soap opera? If you do, then maybe you have been married eight times, have suffered amnesia or a multiple personality disorder, have had dozens of affairs, and have forgotten the co-creators of your biological children. If you're like most of the rest of us, this does not describe you.

Adoption Alert

You've just watched A New Day Dawning, your favorite soap, and Felicity Ferule has suddenly changed her mind—she wants her adopted son back! (He was placed with the Halfmain family six years ago.)

Can that happen in real life? No way! Most states have a time period during which a birthparent can challenge an adoption; depending on the state, that time period can be hours, days, or even months. But after an adoption is finalized, it can only very rarely be overturned.

The news media has also been guilty of showing a bias against adopted people in its news reports of actual events. For example, if an adopted person commits a crime, the adoptive status is often accentuated. (In one case, a reporter wrote that an adopted man had committed a crime because he had been torn from his “roots” as a baby. This was news to the criminal. He stated frankly that he thought it was because he'd been high on crack cocaine and alcohol. Silly him.)

The fact is that most adopted people are not more criminally inclined, nor more violent, than nonadopted people. When we're talking about several million people who were adopted, from those who are infants to those who are elderly, it's impossible to generalize. Some are very talented or brilliant, some are less capable. Most are within the normal range, just like most nonadopted people of the world.

The media also tends to pounce on adoption horror stories. Sensation sells. For example, you may have heard or read stories about adoptions that went wrong because of some horrific dispute. These stories are newsworthy because they are unusual. Most adoptions go through without a hitch and would be considered very unnewsworthy by media.

That's not to say that the scary media stories about unusual situations can't be helpful if they teach everyone involved one key lesson: It's important to be careful in adopting, and if something that you are involved in (or are thinking about becoming involved in) doesn't seem quite right, you should ask questions. Lead with your heart, but don't throw your brain out of the equation.

Very few challenges are made to most of the thousands of infant adoptions that take place in the United States each year, particularly after the babies are placed with adoptive families.

More on: Adoption

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Adoption © 2004 by Christine Adamec. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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