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How Happy Are Adopted Children?

Learn the truth behind certain myths about adopted children.

In this article, you will find:

The truth about adopted children
Myths and media bias

The truth about adopted children

How Happy Are Adopted Children?

Many media stories and made-for-TV movies present adopted children as alienated, unhappy, or even criminal. The truth is, however, most adopted children grow up to be normal adults who blend in with everyone else.

In 1994, the Search Institute in Minneapolis released the results of “Growing Up Adopted,” a four-year study of 881 adopted adolescents, 1,262 adoptive parents, and 78 nonadopted siblings. The study found that the majority of the adopted teens were strongly attached to their families and psychologically healthy. (If they're doing well in adolescence—a tough time for most of us—imagine what they might achieve as adults!)

In fact, the adopted teens in the study scored better than their nonadopted siblings or a sample of their peers in …

Real Life Snapshots

Here are some famous adopted adults:

  • Halle Berry (actress)
  • Robert Byrd (U.S. senator)
  • Peter and Kitty Caruthers (figure skaters)
  • Eric Dickerson (football player)
  • Former president Gerald Ford
  • Melissa Gilbert (actress)
  • Scott Hamilton (Olympic gold medalist skater)
  • Debbie Harry (singer, a.k.a. Blondie)
  • Faith Hill (singer)
  • Steve Jobs (co-founder of Apple Computers)
  • Jim Lightfoot (congressman)
  • Jim Palmer (professional baseball player)
  • Nancy Reagan (former First Lady)
  • Connectedness—having three or more friends and having access to two or more nonparent adults for advice.
  • Caring—placing a high value on helping other people.
  • Social competency—friendship-making and assertiveness skills.

Adopted teens also scored higher than nonadopted adolescents in …

  • School achievement—having a B average or better and aspiring to higher education.
  • Optimism—expecting to be happy in 10 years and expecting to be successful as an adult.
  • Support—having a high level of support from parents and from school.

More recent are the preliminary results from an ongoing study of nearly 1,000 children, including adopted adolescents and their siblings. This study, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, is called the Siblings Interaction and Behavior Study (SIBS), and it is led by Matt McGue, Ph.D, at the University of Minnesota. All the adopted children were under the age of two years old when adopted. In 2003, researchers reported some preliminary results from their study: The adopted kids and their siblings had as close a relationship as nonadopted children. In addition, the researchers said they found no greater risk for emotional problems among the adopted kids than among the nonadopted children. You can read more about siblings and adoption in Parenting Your Adopted Child: A Positive Approach to Building a Strong Family by Andrew Adesman, M.D. (McGraw-Hill, 2004).

Most people don't realize that many adopted adults are quite successful and famous. This doesn't mean that an adopted child should be expected to be some kind of super-achiever. But you never know what might happen!

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