Led by teens, Strengthening MySelf is a website for early adolescents. It begins to allow young people to tell their own stories, should their family setting or peer group be unsuitable to do that for them. They want their project to go viral.
This is often the case, and unsurprising. Talking about adopting is difficult for some and adoptees are often the minority in schools** (in the US, 2.5% of children are adopted…)
**this tells me that we should do more in schools to talk about family dynamics.
It is interesting in that the website is owned by children, a simple mechanism but something I’d not previously thought about. The science is understandable - feelings are fast signals in complex valuing systems. Embracing them heighten the sense of belonging, acceptance, status and admiration. It is easy to see how underserving these needs can be damaging. Technology is the perfect way to enhance the ability of young people, growing up with it in day to day life, to own and engage with adoption in a health way.
The project has three aims:
- develop a website (after a teen asked ‘is there somewhere online I can communicate with people about adoption?’)
- to act as a mentorship model (the project started with an adopted assistant leader)
- focus on self-control
The importance of prosocial experiences is key to the science (and corroborated by other talks in this conference).
Self-control is another central concept. How do you make this attractive to young people? Do you need to try? What do they want to do?
One child, 13, had made a Prezi presentation about adoption and what it means to them. It’s great. Here’s a link.
The fact that it’s called ‘One of the best things that’s happened to me’ is telling - positive stories of adoption are often untold. Perhaps they feel like they are letting the side down by saying that adoption was actually ‘fine’. The presentation contains a lot of harder, more negative feelings, but they are presented in an autonomous and empowered way.
I’d like to find out more about how this resource can be improved (a stand-alone website is paradoxically isolating. An App or a plug in for Facebook would adapt existing and successful networking platforms) and expanded.
I had another idea for an App which acts as an experiential diary (a target area identified by Hal Grotevant in his talk on microagressions). Adoptees could use the App to collect/present their experiences however they want (the product would be integrated with Twitter, Snapchat, Soundcloud, FB etc) and for that information to be collated in a central database for analysis and as an online reference point for younger children. The spontaneity of Snapchat, for example, is a useful entry point for people who would otherwise not want to engage in a group mentality. This applies to boys - NO boys are involved with the Strengthening MySelf website…
A mentoring programme would be a worthwhile addition to this process.
How do we better engage schools?
Can adopted children mix more with un-adopted children in nurture groups?
OPEN ADOPTION COMES OF AGE
Hal Grotevant and Ruth McRoy (Boston, USA) delivered an engaging keynote speech with a range of crossover issues.
They felt the social meaning of adoption has changed; from the transfer of a child from one family to the other, to an adoption kinship network; a permanent connection - through an adopted child - between birth and adoptive families.
This made sense to me and I noted the use of the word ‘network’, with its technological connotations.
Trends in technology has played a key role in the nature of open adoptions (as well as closed adoption, where search and reunion has become a dominant theme).
1980s: letters, visits and calls
2000s: Facebook, texting, blogs
2010s: Skype, social media
These trends are important, I think, in understand how young people like to engage with adoption. Face to face (in-person) contact is often seen to generate greater satisfaction in adoptees and adoptive families, but is less likely to happen where contact can be made remotely. I’m not sure how this could be reconciled (if it needs to be). Research suggests that simply contact is good, and the method should be suitable for the individuals in question.
Closely related to this work was a presentation led by Amanda Baden on searching for birth relatives. I was pleased that it was a positive talk, in that searching for relatives using technology (though laced with challenges) is ultimately a good thing. They asked the question: 'who is helping people to find their relatives and how?'. The scene in the USA is complex, but in general I think there are more opportunities to connect and if these aren't embraced in a positive way, young people especially will still do it, but under the shadow of it being a bad and unhealthy act. This isn't what we want.
Their research reminds us that young people connect using less traditional methods (or using technology) with siblings/peers. Returning to out title statement, I am not sure to what extent a new product needs to be established in order to tap into a mainstream, viral mentality (one that most adolescents can relate to) whist appreciating their specific needs; or whether existing technologies can be adapted or simply embraced in a more positive way...