Social networking continues to raise pressing questions for those touched by adoption. Electronic communications have invited complexities and issues that challenge even the best-prepared members of the adoption circle. Today, adoptive parents must simply anticipate and plan for the likelihood of digital contact with birth family members!
Most adoptees have a natural curiosity about their birth families and with the rising number of social networking sites it can simply be easier to find people. Even if a child does not have his or her own cell phone or computer, these devices are readily accessible via friends, at schools and public libraries. A child curious about adoption is free to explore in new and private, unsupervised ways. The child’s developmental maturity, temperament, mental health, learning style, and family circumstances all affect how the electronic contact impacts the child.
Just as any extended family relationship may face a painful disconnect, there can be intense emotional repercussions when the child is in touch with birth family members without the adoptive parents’ knowledge, input, and supervision. In these cases, there may be no safety net to help the child handle confusing, overwhelming feelings or in making careful choices about boundaries, emotional expectations and demands.
Adoptive parents can be hurt too when learning about electronic contact after the fact. They may experience fear, uncertainty, anger or betrayal as well as excitement, curiosity and hopefulness. Even when adoptive parents know about the contact beforehand, they may worry about information being more than the child is emotionally prepared to process.
With the goal of thoughtful support, adoptive parents should aim to learn how to talk with their child about adoption in general ~ and eventually about the potential for electronic contact with birth family members. Proactive thinking about these matters puts parents in a better position to engage in the child’s electronic communications. Parents can let their child know, for example, that they will occasionally monitor e-mails, Facebook messages, and cell phone records and will discuss concerns directly with the child. Adoptive parents must have their radar up for signs that their child is in contact with biological family members, especially in adoptions of children who were abused or neglected by their birth families and where there are court orders barring contact.
Begin the adoption with explicit boundaries about what kinds of contact the birth family and adoptive parents will have with each other, which adoptive and birth family members will participate in the contact, and how frequently contact will occur.
Adoptive parents should be fully transparent about adoption with their child, using age-appropriate language that honors the child’s biological family. They should tell their child the true adoption story from the beginning, including the positives, reasons for the adoption and the birth family’s challenges. Social workers can help parents practice how to tell difficult truths in words the child can understand and yet, convey compassion and respect for the birth parents. Clearly, children of all ages who have open, honest, straightforward communication with their adoptive parents are in a better position to use their parents as emotional allies when adoption issues emerge.
Parents need to keep their finger on each child’s social networking pulse. Please talk to your children and ground their self- worth on real family relationships, not fake online social interactions. Since kids are more knowledgeable with technology than their parents, many parents give up trying to keep up because they don’t know how to monitor online behavior. NEVER Give Up!
We’ve done some research and have amassed the below list of sites, that all parents should be aware of:
Facebook: Is a social networking site where it’s common to broadcast the ins and outs of our days on Facebook walls.
- Potential concerns for the adoptive family:
- Birth family finding the child
- Child finding the birth family
- Birth family finding your facebook profile
- Bullying/inappropriate information
- Make sure to check your privacy settings!
- Facebook often changes the way that privacy works, so you must stay up to date regarding the information shared.
- We recommend that you share information only with your “friends” and make sure that you actually know those friends.
- Monitor your “other” folder for private messages. Simply access your messenger from a computer (not phone) and note at the top where it says “Other.” Facebook monitors messages it considers to have high probability of being spam and places them in this “Other” folder. Messages from people who are not Friends, will go here.
Twitter: is a Microblogging site that allows users to post brief, 140-character messages — called “tweets” — and follow other users’ activities.
Why it’s popular: Teens like using it to share quick tidbits about their lives with friends. It’s also great for keeping up with what’s going on in the world — breaking news, celebrity gossip, etc.
What parents need to know
- Public tweets are the norm for teens. Though you can choose to keep your tweets private, most teens report having public accounts.
- Talk to your kids about what they post and how a post can spread far and fast.
- Updates appear immediately. Even though you can remove tweets, your followers can still read what you wrote until it’s gone. This can get kids in trouble if they say something in the heat of the moment.
- It’s a promotional tool for celebs. Twitter reels teens in with behind-the-scenes access to celebrities’ lives, adding a whole new dimension to celebrity worship.
Snapchat: is a messaging app that lets users put a time limit on the pictures and videos they send before they disappear.
Why it’s popular: Snapchat’s creators intended the app’s fleeting images to be a way for teens to share fun, light moments without the risk of having them go public. And that’s what most teens use it for: sending goofy or embarrassing photos to one another. “Snaps” also seem to send and load much faster than email or text.
What parents need to know
- Many schools have yet to block it, which is one reason why teens like it so much
- It’s a myth that Snapchats go away forever. Data is data: Whenever an image is sent, it never truly goes away. (For example, the person on the receiving end can take a screenshot of the image before it disappears.) Snaps can be recovered, even though users are unaware.
- It can make sexting seem OK.The seemingly risk-free messaging might encourage users to share pictures containing inappropriate content.
Tumblr: Is like a cross between a blog and Twitter: It’s a streaming scrapbook of text, photos and/or videos and audio clips. Users create and follow short blogs, or “tumblelogs,” that can be seen by anyone online (if made public).
Why it’s popular: Many teens have tumblrs for personal use — sharing photos, videos, musings and things they find funny with their friends. Tumblelogs with funny memes and gifs often go viral online, as well.
What parents need to know
- Porn is easy to find.This online hangout is hip and creative but sometimes raunchy. Pornographic images and videos, depictions of violence, self-harm, drug use and offensive language are easily searchable.
- Privacy can be guarded, but only through an awkward workaround. The first profile a member creates is public and viewable by anyone on the Internet. Members who desire full privacy have to create a second profile, which they’re able to password protect.
- Posts are often copied and shared. Reblogging on tumblr is similar to re-tweeting: A post that’s reblogged from one tumblelog then appears on another. Many teens like — and in fact, want — their posts reblogged. But do you really want your kids’ words and photos on someone else’s page?
Vine: is a social media app that lets users post and watch looping six-second video clips. This Twitter-owned service has developed a unique community of people who post videos that are often creative and funny — and sometimes thought-provoking.
Why it’s popular: Videos run the gamut from stop-motion clips of puzzles doing and undoing themselves to six-second skits showing how a teen wakes up on a school day vs. a day during summer. Teens usually use Vine to create and share silly videos of themselves and/or their friends and family.
What parents need to know
- It’s full of inappropriate videos.In three minutes of random searching, we came across a clip full of full-frontal male nudity, a woman in a fishnet shirt with her breasts exposed, and people blowing marijuana smoke into each other’s mouths. There’s a lot of funny, clever expression on Vine, but much of it isn’t appropriate for kids.
- There are significant privacy concerns. The videos you post, the accounts you follow, and the comments you make on videos are all public by default. But you can adjust your settings to protect your posts; only followers will see them, and you have to approve new followers.
- Parents can be star performers (without knowing).If your teens film you being goofy or silly, you may want to talk about whether they plan to share it.
KIK Messenger: is an app-based alternative to standard texting that kids use for social networking.
Why it’s popular: It’s fast and has no message limits, character limits, or fees if you just use the basic features, making it decidedly more fun in many ways than SMS texting.
What parents need to know
- It’s too easy to “copy all.”Kik’s ability to link to other Kik-enabled apps within itself is a way to drive “app adoption” (purchases) from its users for developers. The app also encourages new registrants to invite everyone in their phone’s address book to join Kik, since users can only message those who also have the app.
- There’s some stranger danger.An app named OinkText, linked to Kik, allows communication with strangers who share their Kik usernames to find people to chat with.
- It uses real names.Teens’ usernames identify them on Kik, so they shouldn’t use their full real name as their username.
Following are the most pressing concerns we see for any child, whether adopted or not, in having access to social networking sites:
- Peer pressure
- Self-esteem challenges – feeling dejected and worthless, because they constantly compare themselves to their online friends
- Location Services sharing personal information
- Online predators
- Pornography & Sexting
- Having access to content your child may not be emotionally ready for: Drug/alcohol use, Pornography, etc.
- Social networking sites create a platform for cyberbullying.
This agency strongly supports parents taking an active and proactive stance on educating children about what an appropriate electronic presence looks like, what can go wrong and how to protect themselves. We strongly advise developing a cell phone contract. Cell phone contracts can be a great way for parents to help their child learn how to manage their new freedoms and should be customized to fit your family and child. A cell phone contract is:
- An agreement between parents and child regarding expectations for responsible phone use
- Sets expectations ahead of time regarding appropriate behavior and use of the phone
- Describes consequences for not following the agreed-upon expectations
- Some children will need stricter rules
- Ideally, the contract should feel “fair” to both parents and child
- The contract should be age appropriate; rules will change as the child gets older and gains more trust and responsibility
Location services is a standard feature on most smartphones—it allows you to share your location with others. Other apps (such as facebook, instagram, or twitter) may include information about your location when you post anything to those sites. Be aware of location services and whether or not you are comfortable allowing your child to use that feature on their smartphone. Don’t forget to set restrictions so your child can’t make changes
- Location services can be especially concerning if you or your child are posting from your home location. You (and they) may be unaware that you are disclosing your location by posting a status or picture.
- There are apps that allow people to search for others based on how close you are to them. Predators are aware of what to look for and how to trick kids into disclosing other information—make sure they are appropriately wary of strangers, even on social media.
- The iphone allows you to give each app permission to use your location if you do not want to disable location services altogether
- Android phones require users to check each app to see if it uses your location
Pornography: With the prevalence of smartphones, kids have more opportunity to stumble upon inappropriate content. Smartphones should be fixed so that normal web browsers are disabled and kid-safe browsers are downloaded in order to prohibit access to porn. This includes all ipods/ipads/androids/kindles that have internet access. Almost 50% of kids age 10-17 report viewing pornography in the last year, but 66% viewed it on accident.
It’s best to have conversations before your child has stumbled upon pornography, which is happening at younger and younger ages (age 9 or 10, currently). Prepare your child for the time that they witness something inappropriate, and let them know how you want them to deal with that moment when it comes. If your child has already witnessed pornography, it’s important to have a conversation without increasing shame and blame. You’ll want to normalize the incident, while making your concerns and expectations clear
- Children from foster care are more susceptible to being recruited, tricked and/or forced into being sexually exploited and abused.
- Sex Trafficing is becoming a more recognized problem, especially relevant for teenage runaways.
- Ways that kids are recruited:
- Seduction and coercion
- Parents selling children
- False advertising for “modeling” “acting” or “dancing”
- Peer recruitment
- Internet trolling (pimps look for girls on instagram, facebook, or other social media sites)
Ways to keep your child safe
- Be aware of who they are talking to online. If you notice a change in your child’s behavior or temperament, initiate conversation and stay connected.
- Talk with your child about online safety and the ways that kids get tricked or recruited. The information you give them could help them make a good decision for themselves.
- Let them know that if they make a mistake, you’ll still be there for them. Coming clean about a mistake might be what keeps them safe in the long run. They need to hear this directly and explicitly, ahead of time.
- Be wary or concerned about anyone who increases conflict or distance between you and your child. These are common ways that children are taken in by predators.
If your adopted child is not yet active on social networking sites, but you are a parent who is… there are also guidelines for you:
- Remember that you cannot post pictures of your child until your adoption is finalized
- Check your privacy settings, i.e. who can see your posts/pictures/location
- Be aware that Birth Parents/Relatives may find you or your child through social media
- Talk with your friends/family about social media safety regarding your child
- Create a separate, unique e-mail address for communication with a birth parent. Agree to use this instead of social networking sites so there is more privacy and so adoptive and birth parents can exercise some sort of oversight over electronic communication that may involve children.
- If using social networking sites, engage the greatest privacy settings to avoid disseminating confidential material about the child or that expands the possibility of others initiating contact.
- Be cautious about accepting friend requests on social networking sites, as these requests can open a Pandora’s box of relationships.
While the pace of technology requires us to be ever-vigilant about new online threats, the ultimate solution is to have a great relationship of trust with our children. Frequent, heartfelt and nonjudgmental conversations are the best vehicles for protecting your loved ones. Though sometimes difficult and time- consuming, there is no better solution to keep a family safe and intact.