Tuesday, February 19, 2013

When an adoptee teenager-as-newborn photo shoot goes viral

Whose job is it to  post photos of an adoptee teenager, posing as an infant, on Facebook? What happens when this teenager starts getting bullied? The teen says he wanted the photos to be posted, but he's only 13. Did the mom make the right decision? Were these photos a great way of highlighting the older-children foster care need in the United States?

When the newborn photos of a 13-year old teenage when viral last week, The Lost Daughters bloggers had a lot to say.

Is dealing publically with post adoption issues--while still a minor--a good idea?

Deanna Shrodes -- A whole lot of people, all non-adoptees, sent me the link to the story. When it went viral, my inbox was suddenly hit with people who wanted to share “the joy” of this story with me. No harm was intended at all. In fact, I know every single one of them believe it was a positive thing, very healing for the child in question, and that it somehow made it better for what he lost as an infant.

However, as adult adoptees, (the “experts”!) we know there are deeper issues present here beyond what seems on the surface to simply be an inspiring story. This young man has deep post adoption issues. Boys often have more of an issue opening up about their true feelings about being adopted. This young man did express his loss in at least one respect. How amazing is that?! The photo shoot may have been a good tool to help him privately work on his post-adoption issues. However, they should have never been publicized. Even if he wanted them to be. He’s still technically a child. He hasn’t fully dealt with his post adoption issues. I expect this kid will probably come even further out of the fog as he becomes a man. Chances are he will TOTALLY regret that this is out there. Not to mention, HE never put it out there! His mother did! And it was never her story to tell.

I don’t believe many adoptive parents (even the ones who haven’t gone viral or famous) realize the damage they do (or will do) to their adopted children by posting photos of them, along with their children’s personal information and stories on Facebook or blogs, even with the best of intentions. Even if the kid says he doesn’t mind or even WANTS the parent to tell the story or show the pictures, they are not at the point of maturity to make that decision. Furthermore, there is psychological research that proves, involving the adopted child in sharing the story publicly in any forum can cause long lasting damage.
I believe one downside of this story going viral is that it may further solidify the feelings of some adoptive parents that putting their child’s story out there is a good thing and will prompt more of this potentially damaging behavior.
Whether he agrees to it or not, there will be nothing he can do to take it back. It will forever be on the internet and may actually serve as a trigger for further trauma.

Perhaps there are better ways to deal with adoption trauma ...

Amanda Woolston -- I don't really have an issue that he wanted to take pictures in the spirit of having baby pictures of his own. Therapeutically, there are ways people not well nurtured as children can care for that inner child that was harmed. If she intended for this to be therapeutic, she should have consulted with an adoption competent therapist.
The photos did not belong on the internet.

Even if posting it online was his idea, it is her job as his mother to make the right choice regardless. I disagree with her decision to post it and then subsequently tell his story on the internet.

Conversely, who hasn't written a Facebook update about something our kid said?

Lynn Grubb -- I don't really have a big issue with this. If the parents are telling the truth, Latrell wanted these photos. First as a joke, but probably at a deeper level, to mourn what he could never get back - pictures of himself as a baby. His mom posted them on Facebook probably not anticipating how fast these would go viral. We all generally post pictures of our kids on Facebook. I think there is also a positive outcome as well as quoted in the article:

'The one reaction that is really humbling and I’m really excited about is there have been a lot of parents that come to me telling me that they were thinking about adopting a baby, but after seeing those photos it’s changed their minds and they want to adopt an older child,' Higgins said.

At the age of 13, Latrell may have posted these himself on his own Facebook. I remember a lot of 13-year-olds (when my son was that age) lying about being older so they could be on Facebook (I believe the age requirement was 14). I don't believe his mom meant any harm and clearly, did not think about future consequences; but, any of us who use Facebook may have used poor judgment in posting pictures of our kids and/or funny things they say that maybe later, they wouldn't want the world to know.

Rebecca Hawkes -- I also wasn't quite as bothered by this as others. For one thing, I'm aware of how common it is for children adopted at an older age to regress in certain ways in the adoptive family -- to in essence go back and retrieve things they missed out on the first time through.
Loss of / lack of baby pictures is a huge issue for many who have experienced disrupted childhoods, so his impulse seemed very natural to me. I hear and understand the concerns others have expressed about privacy, and I think they are valid. But I also think we need to keep in mind a few other things as well. As a mother of children who are almost as old as this boy, I know that today's kids consider my notions of privacy to be somewhat antiquated. They've grown up with Internet. They are the generation of the "selfie" (a photo taken of oneself especially for social networking).
I talk to my daughters all the time about Internet safety--about not revealing personal information or posting anything that they might regret later. We talk about the Internet being forever … all of that. But I've also had to accept that they expect to live their life publicly in a way that is foreign to many older people.
Adoption is also more public than it once was. Many of us grew up not talking about our adoptive status much, but my daughter isn't like that. She's much more out there about her whole experience. Additionally, we don't directly know this boy or his personality, and his parents do. Some kids are private and sensitive; others are hams … natural performers who love the spotlight.
That said, I agree with Deanna that people are missing the point if believe that the photo somehow "fixes" everything for this boy or makes up for all he has experienced. Even if he's in a good place now and feeling safe enough to connect with his "inner baby," so to speak, he has still experienced heartbreaking losses that no child should have to experience. We are not relieved of the responsibility of advocating for better support services for at-risk families simply because some kids manage to survive disruption and foster care to arrive at relatively "happy" endings. Many others end up in less-than-ideal adoptive families or age out of the system at age 18 without finding a permanent support system.
I think the primary question for me is, "Is this child's experience being defined by him or by his adoptive parents?" As an adoptee, I'm bothered when the adoptee is not allowed to self-define but rather must conform to some expected role. Not knowing this family personally, I don't have enough information to evaluate.

Who is defining the adoption narrative?

Deanna -- You make some great points, Rebecca. I guess for me it does boil down to whether the child is exclusively defining his experience with no suggestion or pressure...
And having been a child adoptee who defined my experience one way and then became an adult adoptee who defined it otherwise, I wonder how he will feel about it in the years to come.

Rebecca -- I agree that it's tricky.
Deanna -- Yes. Very. On one hand I'm really glad about what Lynn shared--the quote about people changing their minds about adopting a baby and considering older children. On the other hand, I worry that it will fire up a bunch of a-mommy bloggers to start doing photo shoots and blogging them. Know what I mean?

Rebecca -- Ah yes, I agree. I can step back and say, "It's not my place to judge this one family's choice because I don't know all the details," but I do not think I would want this type of thing to become a trend!
Another thing I'd like people to take away from this is just how important things like baby pictures and other mementos of pre-adoptive history can be. This boy's longing is an important reminder to social workers and others that such things matter. My adopted daughter had a "life book" that got lost in one of the transitions from foster home to foster home, but she did have some photos when she came to us; these and additional early-childhood pictures that she was given later by her original mother are among her most valued possessions.

Deanna -- You're right! It's so important!! I have nothing. And nothing now could ever make up for it, except for those photos being released to me, if they exist.

Rebecca -- Exactly! Even in my case, adopted so young, I wish I had a pre-placement newborn photo. It would mean so much to find out that a photo existed of me in earliest days! So can you even imagine having a photo gap of years?!

Agencies should encourage, preserve and pass-along actual newborn photos

Amanda -- I have three blurry Polaroids of me as a newborn that I received only after my State passed a records access law in 1999 and I figured out how to navigate it in 2009. Before then, I only ever had photos from five months and older when I went to live with my adoptive parents. I took over 500 photos of each of my children in their first 5 months of life. Yet I had none of myself---had never so much as seen a newborn picture of myself until just a few years ago. I do identify with a sense of loss as a result of not having any early baby pictures. It makes me feel as though no one care enough to take them or preserve them for me.

Perhaps this is not the case. But it is the message that gets sent. No one preserved any photos of me and made sure my adoptive parents received them--why did no one think this was important?

Has good come from this story? It's possible. Perhaps people will see a non-stereotyped view of foster adoption that shows the human side of a child rather than the societal view that makes foster and older child adoption look too scary for people to consider. This ties into what Lynn said. As Rebecca mentioned, this story also shows how the things most people take for granted, pre-adoption history and photos, are very important to make adopted children and adults.

Yet, take a bigger step back. Potential benefits to others are not worth any consequences the child may face as a result of these photos being posted online and going viral. Adoptees embody many life lessons that the rest of the world needs to hear. We are living messages of adaptation, survival, resiliency, strength, and the power of a variety of connections in life. Yet it is not our job to serve as educators, connectors, and bridges. It is not our job to be made as examples for others. We can serve in this role if we choose to---if we choose to.

Did this child really choose to have this photos posted online? I am not sure, it is possible. Was it wise of a parent to post photos that peers might eventually make fun of online that tie in to his sensitive emotions on loss, family, and being adopted? I question that. Ultimately, the parent had a final say as to whether or not it was wise to post it online--the parent posted it not the child. The parent could have said, "this is not a good idea" but they did not. I disagree with their decision.

*  *  *  *  *

Compiled by Laura Dennis, image from freedigitalphotos.net