Burning Questions: Meeting the needs of adopted adolescents for communication and connection
Open communication about adoption and having a sense of connection to others who share elements of one’s personal experience can reduce the turmoil that frequently occurs during adolescence. However, achieving these things can be challenging with this age group. Confiding feelings about adoption to parents can feel daunting. Sharing with peers, most of whom are not adopted, runs the risk of feeling misunderstood or too vulnerable. Therapy as a setting for talking can convey weakness and pathology when what adolescents need most is a normalization of their experience and acknowledgment of their strengths.
Opportunities to connect with adopted peers in group settings (when they exist locally) may be intimidating due to fear of not fitting in, expecting pressure to tell one’s story, privacy concerns, or feelings of vulnerability. Logistics (transportation, schedule) may also get in the way. Because the salience of adoption issues fluctuates, a young person might be motivated to attend one week and uninterested the next.
An online forum for adopted adolescents might circumvent many of these obstacles. Accessing perspectives of other adopted people from one’s own home or mobile device, when adoption happens to be on one’s mind, can make it less risky to engage.
A forum like this needs to appeal to this age group and focus on issues relevant to them. It also requires careful design and moderation to protect privacy and ongoing oversight of content and tone. Much of what is available online about adoption addresses the experiences and perspectives of adopted young adults, thus not always providing a space for what younger adolescents might be seeking or ready to process.
The idea for Burning Questions began with a group of teens who were eager to share insights about the lived experience of adoption both in person and through digital means. Implementation of the concept requires input from the target audience, but also from adults knowledgeable about adoption and development. The project has been carried forward by a team of 3 adopted adults and one psychologist (also an adoptive parent).
We have launched an interest survey (disseminated digitally), aimed at the adopted adolescent population, to learn about their level of interest in an adoption-focused platform and their ideas about its utility. Survey results will guide development of an online resource (perhaps podcast, YouTube channel or app) with creative and content input from an “expert” panel of adopted youth.
This presentation will detail the various aims of Burning Questions. We will report on survey results and discuss their implications for selecting digital formats that spark interest, build a sense of community, encourage reflection and discussion among peers and educate the nonadopted. We hope to spread word of this project around the globe and to benefit from the ideas of our audience.