Chapter Nine is filled with happiness as all of the lovers are euphoric after their late night rendezvous, Cesar realizes his ability to sing opera like Roxanne Coss, and General Benjamin finally allows the hostages outside to frolic in the sunshine. At this point it seems that anything is possible, so much so that the vice president decides he will adopt Ishmael after the hostage situations ends. In fact, he is so excited by the idea that he immediately wants to call his wife and tell her the good news, and Ishmael agrees that he would be extremely pleased to stay in the vice president’s house forever. This interaction prompted me to wonder about the positive and negative effects adoption can have on adolescents. How does being adopted affect a young person’s development of identity during the crucial teenage years?
Before delving into this question, I decided to explore some reasons why a person or couple would choose to adopt a teenage child when they could adopt an infant that would grow up within their family’s value system and culture. In 2002, a study by Wertheimer found that while children aged eleven to fifteen made up 22 percent of the adoptable population, they comprised just 14 percent of the adoptions, but these numbers have risen in recent years for a variety of reasons (Wertheimer 4). One major reason why couples have moved toward adopting older children is because there is currently a very low supply of adoptable children due to changing attitudes about parenthood. In the 1960s and ’70s, being a single parent with an illegitimate child or choosing to have an abortion were both heavily stigmatized, leaving women who experienced an unwanted pregnancy with just one socially accepted option – putting their child up for adoption. Since this time period, societal values have shifted and there is much less controversy about illegitimacy and abortion, resulting in a decrease in the number of children being put up for adoption (Brodinzsky 68-72). This issue is compounded by the rise in infertility rates among couples as they wait later and later to try to conceive (Wright 482). Another reason there has recently been a rise in the number of adolescent adoptions is due to a House bill, The Adoption Promotion Act of 2003, that was passed to introduce incentives for parents who choose to adopt children older than nine from the foster care system (Wright 483).
While adolescent adoption is becoming a more popular option, there has not been much research conducted on how being adopted affects a teenager developmentally (Wright 488). According to Erikson’s Eight Stages of Man, one of the foremost theories of identity creation in the fields of psychology and sociology, a person’s identity evolves throughout all stages of life but primarily develops during adolescence due to an increase in autonomy and individuality, making the teenage years a crucial period for development (Brodinzksy 234). As I was researching the relationship between adolescent adoption and identity, I found the changes in approaches to the scholarship to be just as interesting as the research itself. This research topic became popular in the 1970s, probably due to the increase in adolescent adoptions during this time period. Most of the early scholars approached the subject from a psychoanalytic view, arguing that people who are adopted as adolescents are more likely to experience disruptions in their psychosexual development. One psychologist, Easson, argued that because an adopted teenager is not biologically related to his or her parents, the “incest barrier” is not as strong as in a typical familial relationship, leading to increased difficulty in resolving the incestuous tension for the adolescent. Furthermore, the lack of a biological relationship could prevent the child from identifying closely with the same-sex parent, a key part of Freud’s theory of psychosexual development (Easson 102). Moving into the 1980s, the scholarship transitioned away from psychoanalysis and researchers began conducting the first empirical studies on the psychology of adopted adolescents, the most prominent study being by Brodinzsky, Schechter, Braff, and Singer in 1984. They studied 130 adopted and 130 non-adopted adolescents based on ratings from their mothers and teachers and found that those who had been adopted late in childhood or in early adolescence had higher rates of psychological and school-related problems and lower rates of achievement and communication skills. However, the vast majority of adopted children were operating in a normal range of communication and achievement (Brodinzsky 234).
The most recent and comprehensive study I was able to find was conducted in 2005 at the University of South Carolina. The researchers interviewed both parents who had adopted adolescents and the adolescents who were adopted to examine whether the adoptions were considered successful and what factors the participants used to make these determinations. The study found that most adoptees were at least generally satisfied with their new families, with 88 percent rating their adoption experience an 8, 9, or 10 on a scale of 1 to 10 and 95 percent stating they would choose to be adopted again (Wright 497). Some of the most common responses from adoptees included themes like normalcy, acceptance, belonging, commitment, privileges, and opportunities, and researchers noted that most adolescents were particularly realistic about their experience, acknowledging that their relationships with their new families are not perfect. When asked about problems they faced in the process of adapting to their adoption, the most popular response for adolescents was that they missed aspects of their old lives or their biological families and the second was that they had issues getting along with their adoptive families (Wright 501).
While adolescent adoption is often a less-than-ideal situation for both adoptive parents and adoptees, it appears that adoption impacts adolescents in a positive manner far more often than not. Due to the growing number of adolescent adoptions in the United States, I was surprised that there has not been more research done on the topic as most of the research I was able to find was from the 1970s and ’80s and little of it was truly empirical. Many of the studies found that adolescent adoptees had more developmental and identity-related issues, but they were compared to control samples of non-adopted children rather than those who were adopted at a young age. It seems that adopted children would likely have gone through more traumatic experiences than the average child simply based on the fact they had to be adopted, which was not accounted for in the literature. Based on my limited research, it seems that Ishmael would greatly benefit from being adopted by the vice president, but as we know from earlier suggestions in Patchett’s narration, their wishes are unlikely to be fulfilled.
Brodzinsky, David M. The Psychology of Adoption. Oxford University Press, USA, 1990. Print.
Easson, W. “Special Sexual Problems of the Adopted Adolescent.” Medical Aspects of Human Sexuality. 92-105. Web. 4 Nov. 2015.
Wertheimer, Richard. “Youth Who Age Out of Foster Care: Troubled Lives, Troubling Prospects.” The Annie E. Casey Foundation. Web. 4 Nov. 2015.
Wright, Lois. “Adolescent Adoption: Success despite Challenges.” 19 August 2005. Web. 4 Nov. 2015.