How Much is Too Much? The Importance of Setting Boundaries on Social Media for Adoptive Families

Is your child on social media?  Do you monitor his or her Internet usage on a regular basis?  If you are in an open adoption arrangement, have you laid out some rules or limitations for ongoing, online contact?  If you are in a closed adoption plan, have you and your child discussed the possibility of a birth relative finding your family online?

Social media and the Internet are transforming the ways that communication takes place among the adoption triad.  In the past, this type of online communication was not an option.  In fact, contact between birth and adoptive families was not typical in adoption arrangements at all.  Most adoptive parents did not have the ability to get to know their child’s birth family.  Just decades ago, adoptive families could not reach out to their child’s birth mother with questions.

Today, open adoption is the norm.  Approximately 95 percent of adoptions are fully or semi-open plans, meaning that they have made arrangements for some extent of ongoing contact – through letters and pictures, email or phone conversations, texting, Skype, even Facebook messaging.

There is no doubt that the Internet and social media have advanced communications among the adoption triad, making it faster and easier for adoptive families to connect and maintain contact with their child’s birth parents. According to a 2013 study from the Donaldson Adoption Institute, about one in every four adoptive parents have used the Internet to search for and make contact with birth family members through their own website or social media account.  A handful of adoptive parents monitored this sort of contact through their children’s accounts.

If you are in an open or semi-open adoption arrangement, you have likely used social media somewhere along the line to stay up to date with your child’s birth parents.  Perhaps that is why you are here.  Maybe you and your child regularly use Facebook, Twitter, or other social accounts to keep in touch with birth family members, but are looking for tips on how to navigate those conversations.  Maybe your current adoption plan does not allow for social media contact, but your child’s birth mother has just contacted you on Facebook.  Perhaps your child wants to search for his or her birth family online, but that was not written in your post-adoption agreement.  Where do you go from here?

No matter the type of plan you are in, it is important to establish boundaries and expectations for social media from the very beginning of the adoption.  These rules will help ensure that everyone’s wishes are respected and prevent any unplanned or unwanted contact.  Without establishing these boundaries with your child’s birth family, and without discussing those rules with your child and spouse, the Internet will offer free reign for any future contact amongst the triad.  Without establishing rules, your child will not understand the risks of searching for birth parents online.  Without setting limitations, your child’s birth siblings, parents, grandparents, and other relatives may start adding your family on Facebook, perhaps even before your child fully understands his or her adoption story.  Without guidelines, personal family information regarding your child may be shared with the world-wide web.

As an adoptive parent, you may have questions such as, Should I friend my child’s birth mother on Facebook? or Should I post baby pictures of my child online?  Perhaps you are wondering, When should I talk to my child about social media? or How can I prepare for any open communication online?

As an open adoption agency with a thriving search and reunion program, Adoptions With Love has compiled some tips to help you and your family navigate social media use:

Tip 1:  As an adoptive parent, it is crucial to educate yourself and your children about the use of social media.  Sit down and speak with them about the different social media tools, how they work, and how they can impact others, including extended family members.  Set boundaries and guidelines for your child as he or she starts to use the Internet more regularly.

Tip 2:  If you are in touch with your child’s birth family, talk to them about their comfort levels with social media, and how much information they are comfortable with you sharing online.  Tell them how much you are comfortable with them sharing, too.  Together with an adoption professional, decide which social media tools (if any) are appropriate for communication and determine how privacy settings should be set. Set boundaries for online contact (such as, not sharing photos, not commenting on each other’s pages, friending only immediate family members, etc.) and things that may be important to you.

Tip 3:  Always think before you post.  Remember that adoption relationships can be very sensitive, and it is important to not post anything that will be offending or disrespectful to your child’s birth family – even the slightest, “I haven’t slept in days!” could be taken the wrong way.  It is also important not to post any identifying information about your child’s birth family.  Do not share any information or photos of your child that you do not want shared with the rest of the world.  Keep in mind that the Internet has no limits, and anything you post there will be open to public comment and the eyes of the world-wide web.

Tip 4:  Consider more private, online contact methods to replace social media and open adoption communication. Because your personal Facebook posts, profiles, and comments can be publicly accessed, you may consider creating a separate avenue for contact.  At Adoptions With Love, we have guided families to build private Facebook pages, password-protected websites, and separate email accounts designed specifically for adoption communication.  With these in place, any sensitive adoption information can be communicated privately without any risk of public access.

Tip 5:  If you are in a closed adoption plan, talk to your child about the possibility of birth family members reaching out.  Nowadays, a little information can get someone a long way.  If your child’s birth father has your first name, age, and hometown, he may be able to do some digging and find your family on Facebook.  You do not want this to happen before you have a chance to emotionally and mentally prepare your child for that possibility.

Finally, remember that you can always contact an adoption professional for help.  Seek out an adoption counselor who specializes in open communication, to help you navigate any contact that will or could possibly occur online. Talk to an agency about the risks of searching for birth parents online.  And if you are at all concerned about the safety or privacy of your child, know that you can always reach out to an adoption counselor for help.

For more information and tips about social media use among adoptive families, please download our eBook below or call Adoptions With Love at 1-800-722-7731.

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