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:
- How newcomers are integrated into the group
- How people handle differences of opinion
- How they show respect for each other
What are some potential benefits of online communities?
- Connecting with others who share common experiencescan be a huge relief from isolation. Sometimes, parenting a child with LD or AD/HD can make you feel as though no one in your family, neighborhood, or town really understands your situation. Searching for support online gives you the power to reach beyond your immediate borders, into other cities, states, and even countries to make connections with families whose child rearing challenges are similar to your own.
- Online communities can connect you with experts who have graduated from the "school of hard knocks," parents who have learned tips and tricks for surviving a parent-teacher conference or for managing “homework wars” with a child with LD or AD/HD.
- Online communities offer flexibility in the time, location, and pace that you participate. Many are available to you 24 hours a day, using any computer that has access to the World Wide Web or to an email program, so you can “drop in” when you have the time and opportunity. Depending on the format of the particular community, you very often have time to read at your own pace, think about how you want to respond, or even do a little research before you write a response.