Study: When to Tell Children They Were Adopted

When it comes to telling children that they’re adopted, a new Montclair State study suggests that the earlier the better. Counseling Professor Amanda Baden’s latest research on adoption shows that adults who don’t learn of their adoptions until after the age of three suffer greater emotional distress and overall lower life satisfaction than those who learn at a younger age.

“Delaying Adoption Disclosure: A Survey of Late Discovery Adoptees,” a survey of 254 respondents, is the first study of its kind undertaken in the United States and was published in the Journal of Family Issues – and written about in The Atlantic – this summer. Its findings challenge decades-long recommendations as to when adoptive parents should tell their children. Previous advice included waiting until after the age of 4 or even after childhood to disclose adoption status.

For adoptees who find out later, it is the sense of betrayal from a long series of lies that causes the most distress.

“Growing up thinking that you know your heritage and then learning that what you have been told was false is extremely distressing,” Baden explains. “It can trigger larger issues around identity – and identity is already pretty complex.”