Like many teens, Lina, a 15-year-old Korean adoptee, spends a fair amount of time on Facebook. One day, she was “friended” by a friend of a friend named Kimi, who said that she, too, was Korean, though not adopted. Lina had met a few adults in her community who were Korean, but no teens, so she asked Kimi about her life. “It was awesome being able to ask questions that I’ve never been able to ask anyone before. My parents had taken me to lots of Korean cultural events, but I never got the chance to get close to someone my own age. You know, to talk about makeup and dating Korean boys.”
There’s been a lot of discussion in the adoption community about teenagers using the Internet to search for birth family. But the Internet also provides adopted teens with a way to connect with people all over the globe. These connections can fill in some of the missing pieces as they strive to form their identity.
Online connections can help our teens figure out who they are. Facebook, MySpace, chat rooms, and blogs let teens choose the image they want to show the world. The introspection and self-examination involved in creating profiles and writing about themselves help teens explore their identities.
Talking with people who truly understand you is healthy. Michael, 17, says he goes to chat rooms when he needs to vent and to figure things out. “My friends don’t understand that, sometimes, I feel different from my family — like I don’t belong. Connecting with adopted teens who feel the same way helps me. It helps me get past being bummed, so I can appreciate my parents for the good stuff they do.”
Transracially adopted teenagers have a special challenge in incorporating their racial and ethnic heritages into their identities. While some, like Lina, stumble upon a connection online, others are more deliberate in their searches for adoptees who share their cultural or racial heritage.
Mica, age 15, says, “In a second, I can be talking with another kid adopted from Colombia, like me. We can share our feelings without interference from anyone — especially my parents. I know they want me to be safe online — I am, and I am happier having someone to talk with who faces the same things that I do.”
The feedback teens get from others not only validates their feelings, it is a source of practical advice. “The Internet has been my secret garden — a place where I can find support from other teens just like me,” says Cheryl, 16, who was adopted from U.S. foster care. “I can get advice from someone my age about what to say when people say mean things to me.”
Parents know how much it means to talk with other parents — we join support groups, and connect through chat rooms and listservs. We want our teens to have such connections, but it hasn’t always been possible. Now the Internet has filled that gap for our teens, by providing a gateway to connection.