With the advent and explosion of social media, one pressing issue for adoptive and birth families is contact via social networking sites like Facebook. Social networking was designed for older teens and adults who can largely manage the disclosure of personal information. Children under 18 are not equipped to cope with the freedom of the internet any more than they are equipped to drive a car without significant practice and assistance. Nevertheless, internet use has trickled down to younger children, and parents may be scrambling to catch up with the phenomenon and pressure.
If children have access, they may be thinking about making contact with their birth families. They may be scared and excited about it. They may ask for information from you so that they can search. If you hesitate or resist, you will likely hear the classic arguments and protests:
It’s my birth parent!
You have no right to keep me from them!
You aren’t my “real” parent!
When children tread scary new ground, they are depending on your wisdom & need for you to set boundaries and limits. Some general tips to keep in mind include:
• Talk about Facebook & Twitter with your child!
• Point out who may have access to her page.
• Discuss privacy settings.
• Look at his Facebook profile together, even though the idea of being in control is appealing to children. Some parents make it a condition of Facebook that they have access.
• Explain how personal information and certain details could be used to identify and locate your child.
• Ask your child what she does if someone sends a message asking to become her “friend”.
• Discuss why some people have to keep their Facebook profile more private than others. Explain that, in the same way, someone who has been adopted might not want to be easily traced.
• Remind your child that she can be contacted out of the blue by a birth relative through Facebook if she does not have the right privacy settings.
• Suggest other ways she could keep her online identity private by using privacy settings or a pseudo identity.
• Remind her that there are other options for learning more about her birth relatives and making contact.
• Talk to your child about the nature of internet communication and how it is easy for people to do or say things on the spur of the moment without thinking, which they might later regret.
• Remind her how, once you have given someone certain information, you can never get it back.
Remember that it’s always a good idea to be talking about birth parents and adoption with your child. If your child was adopted as an infant and doesn’t have contact, you can ask questions to get the conversation started:
• How do you envision your birth parents? What qualities do you imagine your birth parents will have?
• What do you want the relationship to be?
• How will you react if you reach out and are not successful with contact?
• How will you feel if your birth parent does not want to have a relationship right now?
Many young adoptees are willing, with parental guidance, to slow down the impulsive/compulsive lure of internet contact and will work with a counselor to explore their questions. Issues of identity and loyalty can emerge for younger adoptees when there is sudden contact with a birth parent after years of very little information. For children who have been adopted at older ages, there may be significant reasons to keep their identities private from their birth families (e.g., mental illness, substance abuse, tendency to burden child with their problems, etc.). With the best interests of their child in mind, some parents may choose to forbid Facebook altogether. While this is understandable, what is forbidden may become even more enticing, so a child might sneak around in order to contact a birth parent. Many parents are successful in managing Facebook by making their access and privacy settings a condition, just as driving education is a condition of access to a license and the family car.
There are no clear cut answers and what is right for one child and family may not work for another. As a parent, it is critical to keep the lines of communication open, and to offer your support and guidance as your child navigates the complicated world of social networking.
Two articles re: Search and Reunion via Facebook that may be of interest: