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Wednesday23 April 2014

"Get a Facebook" She Says!

An interview by Barb Drotos

When I asked 16 year old Chelsea what her advice would be to other adoptive kids regarding social media, she quickly replies, "Get a Facebook!" It was that simple. Throughout our interview, she remarks with enthusiasm that it is the way to get connected and remain connected to friends and family. All kinds of family, that is. Chelsea has a story not unlike many other kids in adoption. She has the desire and need to connect to her siblings and birth parents. An energetic and talkative teenager, social media has proven to be a clear and simple tool for her to find and to stay in touch with relatives and friends.

It is not uncommon for today's teens to have a Facebook account and to also use other forms of social media. Yet as parents and professionals, we are not always as savvy as they are in using this form of media. I learned much from Chelsea in our short time together. I learned about her priorities, her perception of the relationships in her life, and her search for identity as an adolescent.

Barb (B): Hi, Chelsea. How old are you?
Chelsea (C): 16. Well, just turned 16 last month.

B:  What types of social media do you use?
C:  Facebook, just Facebook.

B:  How frequently do you use it?
C:  Not that much. My mom does not let me use it but I do anyway. I have over 400 friends.

B:  Why doesn't she let you use it?
C:  I don't know. I think trust. It's an issue we are working on.

B:  So, would you say you are on Facebook once a week, once a day?
C:  I'd say up to once a day.

B:  Do you communicate with friends or family?
C:  Both!

B:  Can you give me some examples of topics of conversation? What do you talk about on-line?
C:  Lots of things. School, friends. I also found my birth dad. Well, he found me. Through this other guy who I don't even know! He wrote to me and told me that my dad was looking for me. So, I wrote to him. He lives in Kansas, though, so I have not met him and probably won't ever. I also met my brother and uncle on Facebook. It was good to find out a few things, since I never met my dad. It was cool. I didn't even know that I had an older brother and I found that out. I was psyched. I like writing to him.

B:  When you found your dad, did you talk to your mom or bring it into counseling? Did you talk about it?
C:  Yes, I did. Both. I talked to my mom and I talked about it with my counselor. I also talk to my step dad on line. I had not seen him in a long time because he went to prison. I got an apology out of him. That was really great. He said that he was sorry that I have been through so much in my life. I can't even get an apology out of my mom, and she is the one that I really want it from! So, it's good to have an apology for some things that happened.

B:  Do you talk to them now on Facebook?
C:  My dad, not really. But my uncle and my brother, we write a lot.

B:  What are some positive things about using Facebook?
C:  You can find almost anyone you want to! I found this friend of mine from when I was younger. It's awesome, that we found each other on Facebook.!

B:  What are some negative things about it? Something you do not like?
C:  Stalker people. You cannot delete them.

B:  What do you mean by "stalker people"?
C:  You see you can see anyone on your friend's page and then also their friends; it keeps going and going. So, if I have 400 friends, I can go to the pages of any of their friends. And they can look at my friends. There are people who just keep writing to you and you don't even know them!

B:  Yeah, that is complicated. Does it scare you?
C:  No, not really. You just have to be careful who you talk to.

B:  Do you have advice for other adoptive kids who want to use Facebook?
C:  Get a Facebook!! And, be careful what you put on there. Everyone can see it. There are some strange "groups" out there. They are like these things you join and then information gets passed around. Stay away from those.

B:  And do you have advice for adoptive parents?
C:  Yes. Get a Facebook! Go on line and talk to your kids. Let them have a Facebook (she smiles).

Chelsea has an outgoing personality and is articulate about the fact that she enjoys this way of connecting with others in her life. Is it frightening to think that she and so many other adopted adolescents have been using social media as a means to find and connect with birth family? Is that intimidating us as adoptive parents and professionals? It is a reality of the world today. It is estimated that 73% of today's teens are using social media (http://pewresearch.org/pubs/1484/social-media-mobile-internet-use-teens-millennials-fewer-blog). In our own WHFC survey of adoptive parents, 60% of you are using Facebook. Therein lays a discrepancy. It would greatly benefit us to become more familiar with social media and embrace it. Do not allow it to divide you from your teen. Make it a way of connecting with him/her. Think of it as a way of "speaking their language" while also creating safety for them on-line.

Chelsea used social media to find and connect with birth family. This is becoming one way that teens are able to initiate the process of search. If you are connected to your teen through social media and you are open in communicating with your teen about birth family, then your teen is more likely to include you in the decisions regarding search. Just as we would advise you to talk to your child about adoption throughout their lives, proactively discussing the option of search through social media is critical in today's world. Some teens have questions about search and birth family and some do not. For those who are curious and have the desire to search for information, they are inevitably going to consider social media as an avenue at some point. Be in the conversation with them and be on line with them.

Some helpful tips for on internet safety can be found on the following sites: