Parenting Help: How Forums Provide a Much Needed Respite
Parents whose kids have behavioral issues and/or mental illnesses face even more difficulties in addition to the “normal” challenges of raising a child, but they have found peer support online through forums and Facebook groups. These peer connections are crucial because, when a child diagnosed with Attention Deficit/Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) is not doing well in school, for example, the blame is very often put on mothers. In addition, because of the nature of their children’s issues, moms are often perceived as too lenient or just bad parents (Mash & Wolfe, 2015). In reality, ADHD has several etiologies and only one of them is related to parenting, but unfortunately that is not common knowledge. Society then often stigmatizes and ostracizes families dealing with ADHD and other behavioral disorders such as Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). Thus, these moms frequently find themselves without support from relatives, neighbors and teachers, making their situation even more desperate.
So, it should come as no surprise that these parents are naturally eager to receive any kind of support, even if it is online. Sociology Professor Juanne N. Clarke and her colleagues Gudrun Van Ameron and Laura Lang from the Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Canada, have conducted two discourse analyses studies in three blogs dedicated to ADHD and a helping forum dedicated to ODD. Professor Clarke and her colleagues examined the content, wording and overall tone of the posts in these two platforms, looking for patterns in discourses and analyzing how users usually responded to each other. The researchers found that the vast majority of users in all blogs and the forum are mothers, and that “it is to the blog these mothers go to get information and support.” Another common type of thread is a parent relating his or her child’s newly founded diagnosis, normally expressing despair and the struggle to come to terms with it. The studies have also found that parents constantly “reinforce to one another that they are not to blame, that others don’t understand and that (with blog support) they are not alone.” Clearly, these parents rely on these communities to find support on a daily basis.
With the popularization of Facebook, several forums (including the ones Dr. Clarke and her colleagues examined) have migrated from independent websites to Facebook groups, most likely because it is more convenient for users to participate. There’s no need for two separate logins, and since most adults are already on Facebook, it is easier to aggregate people with a common interest. A search on Facebook shows there are several support groups, communities and pages for parents of children with ADHD, and one of the most popular is ADHD Kids Care – Support Group For Parents, with more than 30,000 “likes.” On this community, users can submit questions anonymously to the moderators, who then post the question on the page.
The open but anonymous format is a great alternative to closed groups because anyone can benefit from the information shared there. If a parent does not want to join an ADHD support group for fear that his or her friends will see it and make assumptions about his or her child, they can simply “lurk” on this open page or even submit questions without sacrificing their privacy. The possibility of keeping a child’s diagnosis private online is invaluable, since granting the world access to our private lives has become the new normal in our society. It’s important that parents have the option to get answers and support without possibly jeopardizing their child’s shot at a job or school, for example, because of their diagnosis. It might sound far-fetched, but several companies use social media as a tool in recruiting and screening potential job candidates, and we can only expect this practice to increase. Of course it would be preferable that ADHD and other disorders did not carry a stigma anymore in the future, but that is impossible to predict. Until then, pages like ADHD Kids Care allow parents to get answers and support one another without exposing their kids online.
Certainly, saying that raising a child with behavioral problems is difficult is an understatement. Unfortunately ADHD and other disorders still carry a stigma in our society, even though its prevalence ranges from 5% to up to 11% of children aged 4-17 in the United States, making it a common disorder. Parents, most often mothers, are blamed and singled out by their social circle, making it the Internet one of the few places they can go for support. In the midst of increased judgment and blaming in society, mothers can go online to be reassured by one another that they are doing the best they can to help their children.