Online Parent Groups: Support at Your Fingertips

For parents, information and empathy are as close as your computer.  Learn how online groups work, how to interact safely and find a group that meets your needs.

By Linda Broatch, M.A. , Scott Moore

Would you like to talk about parenting issues with other people who are raising children with learning disabilities (LD) or AD/HD? Do you need a support group but have little time in your schedule? Are you willing to invest a little time to learn some basics about finding an online (or “Internet-based”) community that provides that person-to-person contact and support? If so, then read on.

What are some reasons I might want to consider joining an online community?

Parenting a child with LD and/or AD/HD can sometimes be an overwhelming and isolating experience. Support groups are helpful but aren’t always easy to access, particularly if you live in a rural area or have a busy schedule that doesn't permit you to attend regularly. Increasingly, parents are going online and joining Internet-based communities that focus on parenting and educating children with LD and/or AD/HD.

If you’ve never used the Internet to look for an online community, the advantages it offers may not be obvious at first. Maybe you’ve got some worries about how safe online communities are. Or, you may wonder if your computer skills are up to the task.

In one sense, an online community is a lot like a “face-to-face” support group. It is a collection of people with common goals - for example, to support the learning and development of their children with LD or AD/HD. These groups of people also share some common values, which are often expressed in the approach they use to pursue their goals, for example, by investigating the most up-to-date, scientifically-based information on LD or AD/HD.

On the other hand, online communities are different from face-to-face meetings in that you can’t see the people you’re “talking” or “listening” to, and you’re writing back-and-forth rather than talking with them.

In essence, though, online communities are just a gathering of people who are reaching out through their computers to communicate with others who have similar needs and interests. Like face-to-face communities, each online community has its own rules, guidelines, and “character.” Some of the rules and guidelines are more formal - user agreements and privacy policies, for example - and you explicitly agree to abide by these when you join the community. But communities also develop some informal, unspoken guidelines that mainly concern how members treat one another, for example:

What are some potential benefits of online communities?

What are some challenges I should be aware of?

What does it mean to be anonymous in an online community?

Being anonymous in an online community has its advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand, being anonymous may allow you to feel more comfortable about revealing details of your situation that feel too personal to share in your family, school, or community. Often, sharing personal details online opens up the possibility for deep discussion with others. But, while openness can be desirable, it also calls for a few cautions. Remember that, just as you are anonymous to others, they are also anonymous to you. When you describe your parenting issues online, make sure that you are not giving out personal details that, taken together, would allow someone to identify you or your family.

Finally, the truth about being anonymous online is that you and your fellow community members are neither completely anonymous nor completely identified. Over time, personalities and identifying clues can give you a better feel for the people in your online group and to what degree you want to trust them. And, ultimately, there are ways to use either technology or the law to reveal someone's identity, if the situation calls for it.

Different Ways Online Communities Connect

What are some practical tips for finding an online community to call home?

Even though there are some risks involved when you step into an online community, the rewards can be significant and lasting. It might take some time, but it’s likely that you’ll “just know" when you’ve found the right group to call your community. That's the time to jump right in.

Example of a group that allows mailing list options: Time Out for Families - Parenting a child with special mental health needs

Example of a message board: AD/HD - Meds and Education

Example of online chat: Net Haven - Scheduled chats of Specific LD Issues

© 2008 GreatSchools Inc. All Rights Reserved. Originally created by Schwab Learning, formerly a program of the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation

Linda Broatch has worked for many years in nonprofit organizations that serve the health and education needs of children. She has an M.A. in education, with a focus in child development.