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Online Support Groups: Are They Worth The Click?

Once upon a time, not so long ago, the webmd.com craze started. You know what I’m talking about… you put in any symptom you were suffering from and within a couple of clicks you thought you were either suffering from seasonal allergies or dying from some terminal form of cancer.  

Fast forward to present day. While I know plenty of people who still click on webmd, a ton of people have moved on to Facebook groups. You know the type, groups with names like moms of biracial girls, art teachers who make art, or single parents support group. (All groups I have looked into at one point or another). Some of the groups on these social media sites are quite large and have many members from across the globe. They seem alluring, when you come across them and think, “Wow these people are just like me!” and in many cases they are.  

However, please remember to always use your brain and think for yourself when going onto these groups. The people in these groups are regular people, just like you and me, and may or may not know what they are talking about. They may or may not have a personal bias or agenda. Just use your judgement.

Enter The Know It Alls 

Here’s an all too common example of someone who needs to use their better judgement on social media. I was scrolling through a group for parents who wanted advice on caring for their biracial children’s hair. One mom on the site posted a picture of a red and inflamed patch of skin (not hair related at all). The post read, “My biracial daughter came home from school with a slight fever and this on her leg. I’ve never seen it before. What is it?” The comment section was full of dozens of different diagnoses from people saying, “My kid has the same thing it’s (insert skin issue here).” There were dozens more giving treatments which included put olive oil on it, ice it, put athlete’s foot cream on it, etc. Yet in the hundreds of comments, not one person said, bring her to the doctor!  

Of course, I couldn’t keep my mouth shut and clicked away. I commented on how none of the people commenting could accurately help her because she needed to be seen, in person, by her own pediatrician. Why is that not obvious to everyone? This is why I say, please use your judgement. These people don’t know your kid, nor do they have a medical degree, please don’t take their word over that of someone who is paid to know more.

In a group for parents of children with special needs, a thread was going on discussing how teachers were prejudiced against kids with ADHD. The basic idea was that the original commenter should absolutely not give the child’s school a copy of their educational evaluation. (What? I’ve never heard such nonsense). When I commented on the contrary that many teachers would be happy to help any child in their class, I was bombarded with comments saying that I was not supporting this mother and “how dare I” side with teachers. Obviously the people on this thread had an agenda that I was not a part of. So again, it is important to use your judgement and take everything anyone says online with a huge grain of salt.

Enter The Trolls and Bullies

Once you’ve realized that people may not be experts in the subjects you want support in, you may come across another problem, mean people. Call them trolls, cyber bullies, whatever, people can be mean. I feel like these support groups are like high schools. You and your friends are minding your own business discussing a problem when all of a sudden a bully comes up to you and says something nasty and moronic. No matter how much you want to rise above it, words hurt. Online is no different.  

I was in a support group where someone put a video of their child up and asked if the members of the group thought the actions of the child were indicative of a certain disorder. There were of course a variety of answers but what bothered me most was the amount of people in the group who made insanely rude comments. I’m talking about people who told her she should have her child taken away because of what she was allowing her kid to do. She was called a bad mother, an imbecile, and much worse. Why? It made me upset that people who had no idea who this woman was, could sit behind their laptops and make such harsh criticisms of her.

This isn’t the only example of course, cyber bullying isn’t just limited to high schoolers, it is very common in these social media groups. So buyer-beware. If you put yourself out there, you may very well be bombarded with people just like these. Click here to read about another time I was personally bombarded by cyber bully comments.  

So, what’s the end all be all?!

Should we all just run from social media groups then? No. Just make sure you think about the group you are joining. Study its culture, who is allowed in, are there often fights and people being kicked out? Read some posts and the comments first. If they infuriate you, don’t join.

Second, remember these group members do not know you or your family. They are not a replacement for the advice of your friends, family, doctors or those who know you best.

Third, and maybe most important for us mothers, make sure you know what groups online your kids are joining. You may be able to shake off the nasty comments, but can your kids? Should they have to face such people? Always check in with your kids if they are using social media sites and remember that many of the most popular sites do have age restrictions. Don’t circumvent them and allow your kids to join sites, they can wait. And, at the end of the day, if you really need someone to talk to, and support groups on Facebook aren’t giving you what you want, please look for other resources.  

What has your experience been with Facebook groups?

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