News Reel

November is Adoption Awareness Month

adopted-family

November is a month of giving thanks for the blessings in our lives, and one of the biggest blessings in life is family. Many families come together through adoption and November celebrates that with Adoption Awareness Month. Below is an article that blends our learning from the past with the knowledge of today’s research, providing us a broader perspective on adoption, written by Thomas Ahern, a former School Psychologist, and adoptee, who is Vice President of Marketing and Business Development at CALO – a residential therapeutic school in Missouri.

If adoption complications affect a loved one in your life, we invite you to reach out to Tamara Ancona, MA, LPC, at (678) 297-0708. Tamara can professionally assess your adopted teen or young adult’s situation and use her expertise and knowledge in guiding you to getting the best help.

A Briefing on Adoption

The past 30 years have seen major changes in infant adoption practices. Parents who adopted children born between 1940 and the early 1980s in the United States grew up in a world in which adoption agencies and the general public strongly believed that maintaining absolute secrecy and cutting off all connection with the child’s birth family were essential for protecting the child’s emotional well-being (Carp, 1998; Herman, 2008). By the 1960s, however, some adult adoptees and birth parents stepped forth from their shadows of shame to state publicly that the secrets and relinquishment designed to protect them had instead harmed them. Although some people continued to argue in favor of traditional confidential adoption practices, a large body of literature began to document the deleterious impacts of secrecy and cutoffs in adoption practices developed (Hollinger, Baran, Pannor, Appell, & Modell, 2004; Rosenberg & Groze, 1997). As a result, by the 1970s some agencies began to experiment with offering expectant parents who were considering adoption the opportunity to meet their baby’s prospective adoptive parents. Today, although some remain skeptical about the feasibility of open adoption (Brown, Ryan, & Pushkal, 2008), adoptions in which biological and adoptive parents exchange identifying information and have some form of contact with each other are the norm (Vandivere, Malm, & Radel, 2009). This is a change from the days when confidential adoption was the only option available and biological and adoptive parents had no choice but to accept total secrecy, anonymity, and separation, regardless of whether this was what they wanted for themselves or their child.

Today’s open adoptions vary widely. Some involve minimal disclosure of identifying information exchanged through an intermediary (typically an agency or attorney). Others include full disclosure of all identifying information and ongoing contact via face-to-face visits (Grotevant & McRoy, 1998).

The array of options between these two ends of the continuum is vast. These changes in adoption practices have paralleled changes in the larger society. Single parenthood has lost much of its former stigma, and children born outside of marriage are no longer labeled “bastards” or “illegitimate” (Collins, 2009). In addition, science has amply demonstrated the lifesaving importance of knowing one’s genetic heritage to prevent and cure diseases.

In fact, a growing body of literature suggests that any child separated from its birthmother can have a traumatic effect. For some people, this is old news (“The Primal Wound” 1993.) To some, it’s a startlingly new concept. The mainstream view is that adoption is a happy event: a child needing a family gets one. How, then, is adoption a trauma? Scientific research now reveals that as early as the second trimester, the human fetus is capable of auditory processing and in fact, is capable of processing rejection in utero. In addition to the rejection and abandonment felt by the newborn adoptee or any age adoptee for that matter, it must be recognized that the far greater trauma often times occurs in the way in which the mind and body system of the newborn is incapable of processing the loss of the biological figure. Far beyond any cognitive awareness, this experience is stored deep within the cells of the body, routinely leading to states of anxiety and depression for the adopted child later in life. This trauma can affect children’s brains, bodies, behavior, and ways of thinking. Ongoing trauma often disrupts children’s sense of security, safety, and sense of themselves and alters the way they see and respond to people and situations in their lives.

Most adoptees heal just fine from the trauma of separation, but some struggle with trust issues throughout their lives, and have a hard time beginning or ending relationships. Some are challenged with depression, anxiety, and more, throughout their lives. There is a spectrum of resilience among adopted people, and no doubt among first parents. It will take time, patience, and often therapeutic support to address and overcome them. As the Child Welfare Information Gateway fact sheet, Parenting a Child Who Has Experienced Trauma, states: “Parenting a child who has experienced trauma may require a shift from seeing a ‘bad kid’ to a kid who has had bad things happen to him.”

Effect of trauma on brain development

A recent and growing body of research into children’s brain development is shedding new light on the ways that early adverse experiences including adoption changes the structure and chemical activity of the brain and the resulting emotional and behavioral functioning of the child. Research is shifting the way that professionals view and treat children who have experienced trauma by providing biological explanations for what had traditionally been described in psychological, emotional, and behavioral terms.

How can a parent help a child recover and heal?

Experienced professionals and adoptive parents have shared the following tips about supporting a child who has experienced relinquishment trauma:

  • Be patient and consistent and do not take children’s behavior personally. Behavior modification techniques are only minimally effective.
  • A more effective, but counter institutive approach is to use empathy, understanding and compassion to help heal the shame that goes along with relinquishment.
  • Do not to expect to learn upfront about all the trauma the child or youth has experienced. Some of the trauma’s effects may not become apparent for months or even years and most of it is preverbal and doesn’t respond well to verbal based interventions.
  • Never be afraid to reach out for help and advice from others. Parent support groups can be a great source of information.
  • Work hard to understand the trauma and how the trauma affects your child. Not all cases are text book, but doing your research can definitely help.
  • Utilize and seek out community resources. Training may be available through hospitals, school programs, therapeutic, and private agencies.
  • Take the long view. The trauma didn’t happen overnight and the healing won’t either.

World Adoption Day is Tuesday, November 15th. A positive movement to celebrate if you have been impacted by adoption typically celebrated by;

  1. Drawing a smiley face on your hand.
  2. Taking a photo of yourself and loved ones with the smiley face palm.
  3. Upload the photo to social media using the hashtag#worldadoptionday.

National Adoption day is Saturday the 19th. To learn more go to; http://www.nationaladoptionday.org/
Primarily focused on children in Foster Care in need of a family.
National Adoption Day is affiliated/sponsored by the Dave Thomas Foundation.

 

The New Trend: Sextortion

Selfie in bed

Now, more than ever before, teenagers have almost complete access to the internet. Most have smart phones with a connection at their fingertips all the time. Unfortunately, what can come with that can be dangerous. Namely child sexual exploitation, which is becoming an increasingly pervasive problem.

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children discusses trends they are tracking on their website, “The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s CyberTipline receives reports regarding child sexual exploitation, including “sextortion”. Sextortion is a relatively new form of sexual exploitation that occurs primarily online and in which non-physical forms of coercion are utilized, such as blackmail, to acquire sexual content (photos/videos) of the child, obtain money from the child or engage in sex with the child.”

The following is a Public Service Announcement put together by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, which they created along with the Department of Justice to demonstrate how a teenager was blackmailed into sending more and more explicit images and videos to someone she met online. Click here to watch the video.

The FBI has put out the following suggestions for parents to help protect against sextortion:

For Parents :

  • Supervise children’s computer or mobile device usage. Devices like smart phones are more difficult to manage due to their mobility and technical capabilities. As teenagers’ brains are not yet fully developed, they often struggle with anticipating consequences or impulse control. It’s important to discuss with your children appropriate uses for devices when they are given access to them. This includes communicating with others online and sending photos. Parents may want to maintain their child’s online account access information with the child’s understanding that the parent can log in at any time.
  • Communicate with your children. Have age-appropriate discussions with your child about the dangers associated with communicating with unknown people online, sending photos, or engaging in other risky behavior online. In an effort to protect children from online predators, it’s important to educate them about sextortion and the motivations of those who extort children. Let your children know they can come to you without fear of reprisal, and that you have a genuine interest in their safety and online activities. Those exploited through these crimes are victims, no matter what they did or how they responded to the threat.
  • Layer security. Employ basic technology security measures. Use strong passwords and update software regularly. Never open attachments to e-mails unless you are certain of the sender. Use a firewall, anti-malware software, and consider use of encryption for your hard drive. Keep in mind that some malware attacks are targeted; meaning criminals may customize their tools so that more simplistic anti-malware programs do not detect them and victims are more apt to take the bait. Do not assume technology alone will protect you; you must also do your part to protect yourself.

The trend is frightening. If you know of a teenager in your life who you feel might be a victim of exploitation, please seek help for them immediately. Tamara Ancona, MA, LPC at (678) 297-0708 is available to help assess the severity of your teen’s situation and guide you to getting not just the right help, but the best help.

When an Online Relationship with a Stranger is Unhealthy

online-relationships

**By Rebecca Ruiz/Reprinted from Mashable

The internet can be a thrilling place, full of opportunities to discover something — or someone — new. Adolescents and teens know this feeling well, but may be more vulnerable to exploitation than any other online user. Amid the fun of exploring the digital world, there is the small risk of developing emotionally and psychologically damaging relationships with strangers. That became clear earlier this week when the Daily Mail published an account of an anonymous 15-year-old who had an explicit online relationship with former New York congressman Anthony Weiner.

Last month, the New York Post revealed that Weiner had traded sexual messages and photos with an adult woman — the third instance of that behavior since 2011. Huma Abedin, his wife and a key aide to Hillary Clinton, swiftly announced their separation.

Weiner, who reportedly knew the 15-year-old girl was underage, told the Daily Mail: “I have repeatedly demonstrated terrible judgement about the people I have communicated with online and the things I have sent. I am filled with regret and heartbroken for those I have hurt.”

Prosecutors have issued a subpoena for Weiner’s cell phone records and the FBI and New York Police Department have begun investigating the allegations, according to CNN.

The teenager said that she’d contacted Weiner out of curiosity, and wrote a letter explaining that she shared her story with the media because he “needs to learn his lesson.” Her father, who also spoke to the Daily Mail and requested anonymity, said her mental health was in “jeopardy.”

While the case is an extreme example, it demonstrates how online relationships with strangers can become dangerous experiences for young people.

In a study published in 2013 of more than 1,500 adolescents and teenagers, one in 10 youths said they had a close online friendship with someone they met on the internet. Only 3 percent of the respondents reported a romantic relationship that began online; less than 1 percent said their partner was older than 21.

Strangers do indeed reach out to young people online. A Pew Research Center report from 2013 found that 17 percent of those surveyed had been contacted by a stranger in a way that made them feel scared of uncomfortable. Girls were twice as likely as boys to say a stranger messaged them.

If you’ve developed an online relationship with a stranger, here are five warning signs that it is unhealthy:

The person is an adult

As in real life, adults who seek out minors for an emotionally or physically intimate relationship should not be trusted.

“Anytime an adult is interacting with a child [in this fashion], it’s exploitative, it’s abusive,” says Stefanie Carnes, a clinical consultant with Elements Behavioral Health, a company that provides center-based treatment for addiction and mental illness.

While a young person might find it exhilarating to have an adult’s attention online, and not worry about a threat to their physical safety, Carnes says the relationship is still risky. With such a power imbalance, feelings of control are an illusion.

You already feel vulnerable and lonely 

For an emotionally stable teen making an online connection with a stranger, it may be easy to identify when that relationship crosses a boundary. But for someone who already feels vulnerable and lonely, the lines can blur, especially when the relationship gives them validation that’s hard to find elsewhere.

It’s worth pausing to consider why you’re pursuing an online relationship with a stranger and how you can meet those needs offline.

The relationship makes you feel really special

If someone you’ve never met in person starts to make you feel special, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The dynamic can be harmful, however, when feeling adored comes at a price, like engaging in sexually explicit conversations.

Similarly, says Carnes, a young person might develop expectations that don’t materialize offline and ultimately feel betrayed or used. As in Weiner’s case, an adult interacting online with a minor may make the relationship seem important, but is in fact pursuing multiple connections at once.

It involves explicit photos 

If you can’t trust someone you know to keep a sext private, how can you trust a stranger? When an online friend or romantic interest requests explicit images, Carnes says to turn them down. She likens such photos to a “digital tattoo” that can show up in search results, or worse yet, be used for retaliation or cyberbullying.

And while you might not be concerned about your personal safety, it’s important to remember that photos are often geotagged with your precise location.

 You have to keep it a secret

If you become close with a stranger online and they ask you to keep the relationship a secret, something is wrong. Being secretive may seem fun, but that should never be a condition of a healthy relationship. And if trusted friends or family members have expressed worry over your behavior, or you know they wouldn’t condone your online relationship, it’s time to reconsider keeping this person in your life.

 

If you want to end contact, become unresponsive and filter or block the person’s email and social media accounts. If you believe that person poses a threat to you or someone else, report them to authorities. Losing that relationship may not be easy, which is why Carnes stresses the importance of reaching out to a friend or adult for emotional support and, if needed, seeking counseling.

“Start investing in and becoming emotionally vulnerable in relationships in real life,” she says. “Start developing connections that might decrease [your] loneliness.”

The Effects of Cyberbullying

Young Female Using Smart Phone

The following information was taken from a Screenagers Tech Talk Tuesday Emailing.

Cyberbullying is a big concern for parents and kids alike. But defining it, and helping children and teens understand exactly what it means is challenging.

The definition of bullying from StopBullying.gov is:

“Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Both kids who are bullied and who bully others may have serious, lasting problems.

In order to be considered bullying, the behavior must be aggressive and include:

  • An Imbalance of Power: Kids who bully use their power—such as physical strength, access to embarrassing information, or popularity—to control or harm others. Power imbalances can change over time and in different situations, even if they involve the same people.
  • Repetition: Bullying behaviors happen more than once or have the potential to happen more than once. Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.”

Children and teens either don’t recognize cyberbullying, or are often afraid, or unaware of how to stop it. Even if they see or hear about one incident that wouldn’t be considered, by definition, bullying. However, today’s technology allows for “one time” incidents to escalate quickly, and it can quickly turn into cyberbullying. The developing brain and lack of impulse control, etc. also can exasperate the problem.

Here are some things to discuss with your child/teen about cyberbullying and how we can put an end to this terrible trend:

  • How do you define cyberbullying? Parents, then share your definition.
  • Have you ever been bullied? What about cyberbullied?
  • Do you think parents are overly worried about cyberbullying?
  • Can you be cyberbullied via text, or just on social media?
  • What do you do when someone says something mean online about someone else? How about when someone says something mean about you?
  • Who are some trusted adults you can talk to about cyberbullying?

This is an increasingly pervasive problem that we need to work together to help solve. That starts with conversations and helping children and teens alike understand the dire, long-term consequences that can be involved. If you believe your child is struggling with cyberbullying and needs help dealing with it, call TAG Counseling (678-297-0708) for a consultation.

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Screens & Autism

Gaming

The study of screens and their effects on children are on-going. A movie called Life, Animated, is coming out in 2016 telling the story of a boy named Owen who was diagnosed with Autism at the age of 3. His family discovered that using Disney movies helped him relate better to those around him, through the many characterizations. (Trailer found here: https://youtu.be/4n7fosK9UyY)

However, Jason Calder, LMFT, CMHC and Clinical Director of Unplugged at Outback Therapeutic Expeditions in Lehi, Utah has found evidence throughout his own research that warrants greater discussion outside of the Disney entertainment and cautions a potentially misguided message.

Calder says, “While digital media use in moderation can be helpful for some individuals, compulsive usage can have the opposite effect. I came across a study once which showed that too much screen time can induce “autism-like” traits. The study wasn’t necessarily saying that screen time was causing autism, just similar traits. From a synaptic pruning standpoint this makes sense. Neurological real estate is valuable; use-it-or-lose-it. Since we know that the vast majority of face to face communication is non-verbal then this is what we are losing when so much of our interaction becomes digitized. It could very well be that the cognitive processes that normally govern those interactions lie dormant if screen time is pervasive enough, and that those neurological centers get utilized for other functions (similar to the famous London cab driver study).

From my own qualitative research I’ve found some evidence for this. Roughly 40% of the clients in our Unplugged program have either been diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum or possess enough traits of ASD that they will likely warrant a diagnosis. But the fascinating thing for me has been to watch some of these folks develop more neurotypical traits as they detox from screens. As you may know, our program participants are in nature 24/7 and are 45 miles from the nearest electrical outlet. I’ve found that some of my clients initially present with heavy Autism Spectrum (Level 1) traits but that they start to decrease these traits over time; around 4-5 weeks they start giving me solid eye contact and begin reciprocating conversation. It’s been amazing to see!”

While we continue to study these trends, it can always be said that more quality time interacting with our children in positive ways yields good results.