Talking to Pre-Teens and Teens About Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART)
Adolescents are trying to make sense of the world and find their
place in it. To establish the independence they’ll need to
function as adults, they need to question and define their identities.
They may wonder about the donor and what motivated him or her to
participate in their birth. They may feel a sense of loss, sadness,
or anger over not knowing the donor. They may worry about inheriting
the problems that caused their parents’ infertility, and want
more about what happened. Parents can help their teenage and preteen
children recognize that such mixed feelings are normal, and answer
teens’ questions as fully as possible.
It’s also normal for adolescents to get rebellious and angry
at their parents, and kids born through ART have extra weapons they
can use. At 11 or 12, they may resent that they weren’t conceived
like everyone else. Even though it’s hard to hear, parents
need to let kids express their angry or negative feelings. Sometimes
it helps to have a light touch.
Parents should expect that an adolescent who is, for example,
asked to give up seeing friends so that she can babysit a younger
brother, may feel quite angry. A child who was born through ART
(like a child who was adopted or who is a stepchild) may lash out
by saying something like, "I don't have to listen to you—you're
not my real mother!" While such comments can be painful to
hear, they're simply an expression of the child's temporary anger,
and not a rejection of your relationship.
At times like this, using some lighthearted humor and accepting
the child's intense emotions are more effective tools than arguing
about your relationship. Keep telling yourself that this type of
rebelliousness is normal and healthy for teens.
Patricia Mendell, LCSW, a social worker and psychotherapist
in New York City who specializes issues related to infertility,
describes how parents can do this.
Adolescence is also a time for fantasizing: What if my
life were different? What if my parents got divorced? What
if my donor dad was a movie star? Hilary Hanafin, Ph.D.,
the chief psychologist at the Center for Surrogate Parenting
in Los Angeles, says that unlike adopted kids, who might
easily have ended up with other parents, children of ART
would not have been conceived unless their mom and dad had
planned it. But like all kids, they wonder what life would
have been like under other circumstances.
think with ART children it's possible that woven into that is the
additional "What if?" What if my surrogate mom was different?
What if my egg donor is really a famous musician and no one told
me? What if the reason I'm the shortest kid in the class is because
my sperm donor was short and no one told them?"
— Hilary Hanafin, Ph.D.
Audio requires flash player - click
here if you need the free download.