Cyberspace offers the adoption community both opportunities and risks--we need to prepare for both.
Growing numbers of adoptive parents and adoptees use social networking to talk, to meet, to share, to find, and to learn.
Thanks to social networking we are now all potential publishers—we can tell our stories, we can rant, we can chronicle, we can learn. Not only is our potential audience massive, what we write can be widely shared and distributed by anyone who reads it. Therein lies the wonder and the worry around sharing our stories online.
It’s not surprising that adoptive parents take to blogging—they have good reasons: a passion for their subject and many amazing stories. Blogging is also an effective way to share knowledge and increase understanding about adoption, something most adoptive parents love to do. Sometimes, considering the personal nature of their material and how easy it is to access, it’s surprising how much many adoption bloggers actually share.
Purpose can change
Adoptive mom Harriet Fancott started her blog as a way to share her adoption journey with family and friends and to document the milestones in her son Theo’s life. But, as she explains, before long her blog had a wider audience. “It turned out that it wasn’t just family and friends reading the blog: parents and members of the adoption circle were reading and commenting on my posts too,” explains Harriet.
Harriet also recognizes how she has benefitted from the interaction that blogging offers: “Through the blog, I’ve connected with parents and members of the adoption circle. A local birth mother, who placed her child in an open adoption 21 years ago, has given me immense perspective about how this kind of relationship unfolds over time. Several adult adoptees have shared their reunion stories and voiced their support of open adoption. Parents with biological children have said they appreciated and learned from my perspective.” However, Harriet also recognizes that the interaction the online universe offers also has its downsides.
“Adoption can be controversial: There are adoption activists who seek to end all adoption. There are mothers who placed children for adoption who say they lost children to adoption. There are adoptees that do not support intercountry or transracial adoption. They may visit your blog and make comments. While you can moderate the comments, you can’t prevent people from sending them,” she explains.
Online to real time
Though Harriet’s blog started off as a more personal enterprise, adoptive mom Cathy Gilbert, who works for AFABC as an adoption support coordinator, had different reasons for blogging. “It began for me as one more way to connect with families. Once I realized that people actually read it, (now there are about 50 a day), and that some of them read it with their coffee in the morning, it took on new meaning. I consider it a way for me to educate those already parenting, or those who are prospective parents, about some of the realities of adopting older children. The effort of putting into words some of our daily experiences, and sometimes researching a topic that seems to fit, seems to make it more reality-based for some people than a book, or hearing it from a professional who isn’t actually walking the walk,” says Cathy.
Cathy’s blog has a wider purpose than online connection, it also brings people together in-person. “My blog is also a way of sharing information on events and resources for adoptive families,” she explains.
Savvy social networking
Of course, one of the dangers of offering up personal experiences and thoughts to cyberspace is that you can very easily lose your privacy and control of who sees your material. Despite this, none of the bloggers Focus on Adoption spoke to had encountered serious problems. Though Cathy’s blog contains quite personal content, she explains the precautions she takes. ”Believe it or not, I only reveal a very small percentage of what goes on in my home. I tone down the issues, the drama, and the details. I also use numbers and a variety of descriptors for my kids which often confuses readers (which is the intent).”
Some bloggers use pseudonyms and never give identifying information such as location, age, occupation, etcetera, in their blogs. Bloggers need to remember that even if they don’t mind sharing their adoption stories, some of the characters involved may not have given their permission. For this reason, though Harriet is happy to identify herself, her husband, and her son on her blog, she uses pseudonyms for the birth family.
As well as taking precautions like this, some bloggers require readers to use a password, a sensible move if there are safety issues around children that need to be considered. It is also possible to have a blog hosted anonymously— even the people who run the service don’t have your name. Bloggers also need to consider that, even if they only allow certain people to access their blogs, material can be copied and sent to anyone the reader chooses to share it with— another reason to consider anonymity.
Facebook and adoption
Writing an adoption blog can be time-consuming. Keeping up a Facebook or MySpace account can take far less time. Though such services are a great way to find old friends, make new ones, and to tell people about events and causes, there are inherent dangers in using it.
“The main issue I think is that people forget that Facebook is not as private as they might think it is. Once your information and photographs are posted, your friends can pass it on to someone else, without your permission. Take the time to carefully decide what privacy settings you want for your page,” says Rachel Timmins, AFABC’s Communications Coordinator and social networking expert. She also cautions, “Any comment you make on your Facebook wall, or on someone else’s, can be copied and distributed. You are relying on the people in your network to protect your privacy, which they may not do.” For this reason, adoptive parents and people waiting to adopt should be careful what they say on social networking sites—your adoption agency, a birth parent, or social worker may access your information. Not only that, there are search engines which can locate every comment you have ever made online whether it’s currently on your Facebook, MySpace page, or someone else’s. Be careful what you share about your children’s stories and your feelings. It can be helpful to imagine that when you are writing or loading photographs, millions of people are looking over your shoulder.
It is also important to remember that before an adoption is finalized identifying information and photographs of children must not be posted online by parents. Remember to be sensitive, especially in the early days of an adoption, about the feelings of birth family before placing information and photographs of children online.
Not many Canadian kids over 12 don’t have a Facebook page—parental permission is not required to set one up. When a child’s friends all have Facebook pages, it’s difficult for him or her to resist the pressure, even when parental permission is withheld.
All parents need to educate their children about safety precautions early on. But adoptive parents may have additional issues to consider. Firstly, there is the potential for birth family to find and connect with children that are on Facebook. While this may be perfectly fine in some situations, when a child has been apprehended and, for safety reasons birth parents are not allowed contact, Facebook could pose a significant problem. If a birth parent makes a friend request, it would be hard for any child to decline the offer. Equally, it would be hard for a birth parent to refuse a friend request should a child make one. Secondly, adoptive parents need to understand that their child or child’s birth parents may be seeking each other online. Once again, that may not pose a problem. However, it’s something parents need to be mindful of.
Children and teens do not naturally have privacy and safety issues top of mind, and they may share far more about their lives than you think is safe. “My teens already put their lives out there without my permission or knowledge (often) and say more than I ever would,” explains Cathy. The privacy default settings on Facebook are set to encourage the sharing of information, parents should help their children set their settings to ensure that only approved friends can access their information (not friends of friends). Telling your child not to provide the location of their home or school or any phone numbers on Facebook is strongly advised; so is suggesting that they do not provide their actual location on status updates—for instance—”I’m at Sunrise Park with Maya and Sadie.” Making it a requirement that the child allows parental access to Facebook pages and then regularly checking the page is advisable. If you do that, don’t comment on what’s on the child’s wall unless it’s necessary.
Having said all this, Facebook and other social networking sites can be a wonderful way for people to connect—many adoptees have been happily reunited with birth family as a result of them. Facebook is also a great way for separated siblings to maintain contact. Adoptive parents can also use Facebook as another way of maintaining openness with birth family. Another plus of such technology is that it can be used as an effective tool to get the message out about adoption to the wider public.
As what can be accomplished with this technology becomes evermore sophisticated, it is incumbent upon adoptive parents to educate themselves so that they and their children get the best from it and avoid the worst.