Fourteen-year-old Amy was on the computer, when she called out, “Hey, Mom! Come look!” As her mom approached the screen, the image smiling back at her looked oddly familiar. “I think I just Googled my birth family!” said Amy.
Noah, a 16-year-old Korean adoptee, had his parents’ support and permission to begin searching for birth family. He had just contacted his adoption agency when his birth father reached out to him — through Facebook.
In our high-speed world, stories like these are becoming commonplace. You should begin a conversation about Internet safety and privacy as soon as your child becomes computer-literate. Establish general rules, such as “Keep Facebook open only to friends” and “Never give your address or phone number out on the Internet.”
But even as our children learn these basic rules, we have the added complexity of teaching them about searching for, and being searched for by, birth families. We can no longer assume that we are the sole gatekeepers of information.
Your teen’s emotional development is probably not on a par with her technical abilities. Children may search for birth family just to see what they find, without considering the complexity of opening up an adoption. Finding someone online means having to deal with a real person, who may or may not think, act, or respond as you would like.
Christopher, a 13-year-old, was found by an older birth sibling, and they arranged to meet. At the last minute, he told his mother. She contacted the sibling and explained that she supported her son’s interest in meeting his birth family, but that she wanted to be involved, since he was still a teen. The mother accompanied her son, and all three enjoyed the visit.
Julie, a 15-year-old, found her birth mother on Facebook and began writing to her. Her birth mom felt overwhelmed and pulled back. Julie’s parents didn’t know this had happened until her grades and behavior began to deteriorate. They had a heart-to-heart, and Julie agreed to see a counselor trained in adoption, to sort out her feelings and make a realistic plan for future contact.
By opening a dialogue, you can ensure that there are no divided loyalties or secrets around relationships with birth family members who might be found. If you sanction an online search, support your child by asking about her hopes for the relationship.
You might say, “You said that you want to find your birth mother. What would you like to tell her or ask her? I’ve read about other people who searched for their birth families, and birth parents are not always ready to have contact. How would you feel if that happens?”
Just as you prepare your child to answer questions about adoption from other children, so you need to prepare him to handle interactions that might arise online.