Online Parent Groups: Support at Your Fingertips
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By Linda Broatch, M.A. , Scott Moore
What are some challenges I should be aware of?
- Misinformation might be exchanged in online communities. Sometimes, online community members misunderstand, misinterpret, or unknowingly communicate inaccurate, second-hand information about learning disabilities and related laws, services, or research. Unfortunately, it is also the case that some people you encounter online hope to exploit the myth of the quick-fix in order to sell products, services, or “cures” for LD and AD/HD. Online communities require you to be a critical consumer of information.
- Very few organizations are able to provide expert guidance to the discussions in their online communities. Unlike the situation in some face-to-face support groups, most online communities don't have a person to play the role of a therapist or moderator, or someone to serve as a topic expert. So, members work together to guide the discussion, or to explore and evaluate sources of information. In addition, even well established online communities can sometimes steer off-course into discussions unrelated to supporting children with learning or attention problems. When you investigate possible online communities to get involved with, assess how focused each group is and avoid those that may frustrate you.
- There are limits to what the written word can communicate. At this time, nearly all online communities use some form of written communication to connect people. When you communicate face-to-face with others, the words you use, your tone of voice, and your body language combine to convey the full meaning of what you say. Miscommunication online can lead to misunderstandings, disagreements, and even hard feelings. This can be especially true when the topic is sensitive - such as parenting a child with LD. When you communicate online, it’s best to think before you write and to give others the benefit of the doubt.
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
- Mailing Lists: Sometimes called listservs, these communities allow large groups of people to send email messages to everyone who subscribes to the "list." All you need to do is have access to an email address and subscribe to the list. Check for mailing lists that allow you to receive a digest of each day's messages.
- Message Boards: Message boards (also called "bulletin boards") are online spaces where people can post questions and discussion items for others in the community to read and comment on. An advantage of message boards is that the discussions are often kept for a long time (sometimes years) and are usually searchable, which can help you find a community that's right for you.
- Online Chats: Chats are real-time (live) online meetings where questions and answers are processed immediately. Most chats (particularly those with experts or celebrities) are scheduled and have a moderator who chooses which questions will be answered. Because they can move fast, you may find it difficult to read quickly enough to sustain in-depth conversations.