Parents, ADHD and the internet

  • Sylvia TerbeckEmail author
  • L. Paul Chesterman
Original Article


The objective of this study is to examine the potential impact of using the internet on medical consultations by analysing the attitudes, attributions, and emotional responses of parents who have been informed by specialists that their child does not have attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and to examine the nature of the feedback they obtained from members of online internet support groups. Over 40,000 messages from the five most popular international internet forums discussing children with ADHD were analysed. Messages from parents who reported that they had seen at least one specialist (e.g. paediatrician, psychiatrist or psychologist) because of their concerns that their child had ADHD were identified. The children included boys and girls with an age range from 2 to 16 years. Of these, we analysed messages where the parents additionally reported that the specialist had excluded a diagnosis of ADHD. Using these criteria, 91 messages from parents who had consulted over 200 different specialists and 398 replies to these messages were identified for content analysis. The replies to concerned parents were analysed to determine whether they were offered impartial advice. A majority of the parents reported that they did not believe the specialist and were unhappy about their child not being diagnosed with ADHD. They expressed dissatisfaction with the professional’s opinions and the implication that their child’s conduct was caused by their poor parenting skills. Importantly, 87.6 % of the responses that these parents received, from other members of online forums, reinforced the parent’s negative attitude towards the professional’s judgement. It was generally suggested that the parents should not believe the expert and should seek a further opinion. The use of the internet may encourage “doctor shopping” and mistrust in health services. Medical professionals and others may need to be aware of this, and parents may need more support than is generally offered to be able to accept alternative explanations for their child’s behaviour.


Online support groups ADHD Parents Online advice quality 


  1. Aanonsen AM (2000) Psyologi pa Internett. Tidsskrift for Norsk Psykoloforening 37:947Google Scholar
  2. American Psychiatric Association (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, 4th edn, text revision. American Psychiatric Association, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  3. Barkley RA (2006) Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: a handbook for diagnosis and treatment. Guilford Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  4. Brooks M (2009) Internet wonders. New Scientist, Issue: May, 2009Google Scholar
  5. Bussing R, Gary FA, Mills TL, Wilson Garvan S (2003) Parental explanatory models of ADHD. J Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol 38:563–575CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Cialdini RB, Goldstein NJ (2004) Social influence: compliance and conformity. Annu Rev Psychol 55:591–621PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Custers K, van den Bulck J (2009) Viewership of pro-anorexia websites in seventh, ninth, and eleven graders. Eur Eat Disord Rev 17(3):214–219PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Eysenbach G, Powell J, Englesakis M, Rizo C, Stern A (2001) Health related virtual communities and electronic group support: systematic review of the effects of online peer to peer interactions. Br Med J 328:1–6Google Scholar
  9. Fischer W, Goerg D, Zbinden E (1999) Determining factors and the effects of attitudes towards psychotropic medication. In: Guimon J, Fischer W, Sartorius N (eds) The image of madness: the public facing mental illness and psychiatric treatment. Krager, Basel, pp 162–186Google Scholar
  10. Fritzpatrick R, Hopkins A (1983) Problems in the conceptual framework of patient satisfaction research. Sociol Healthc Illn 5:297–311CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Griffiths KM, Calear AL, Banfield M (2009) Systematic review on internet support groups (ISGs) and depression (1): do ISGs reduce depressive symptoms? J Med Internet Res 11(3):1–5Google Scholar
  12. Hall JD, Ashley DM, Bramlett RK, Dielmann KD, Murphy JJ (2005) ADHD assessment: a comparison of negative versus positive symptom formats. J Appl Soc Psychol 21(1):1537–7911Google Scholar
  13. Jadad AR (1999) Promoting partnerships: challenges for the internet age. Br Med J 319:761–764CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Jenson CE, Green RG, Singh NN, Best AM, Ellis CR (1998) Parental attributions of the causes of their children’s behaviour. J Child Fam Stud 7(2):205–215CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Kewley GD (1998) Personal paper: attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is underdiagnosed und undertreated in Britain. Br Med J 316:1549–1596CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. King S, Griffin S, Hodges Z (2006) A systematic review and economic model of the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of methylphenidate, dexamfetamine, and atomoxetine for treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children and adolescent. Health Technol Assess 10:113–146Google Scholar
  17. Levy JA, Stromberck R (2002) Health benefits and risks on the internet. J Med Syst 26(2):495–510PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Morgan DL (1993) Qualitative content analysis: a guide to paths not taken. Qual Health Res 3:112–121PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Rajagopal S (2004) Suicide pacts and the internet. Br Med J 329:1298–1299CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Rourke L, Anderson T (2004) Validity in qualitative content analysis. Education Tech Research Dev 52(1):5–18CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Salem DA, Bogat GA, Reid C (1997) Mutual help goes online. J Commun Psychol 25:715–737CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Saltmarsh R, McDougall S, Downey J (2005) Attributions about child behaviour: comparing attributions made by parents of children diagnosed with ADHD and those made by parents of children with behavioural difficulties. Educ Child Psychol 22(4):108–125Google Scholar
  23. Shaw M, Black DW (2008) Internet addiction: definition, assessment, epidemiology, and clinical management. CNS Drugs 22(5):353–365PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Smelter RW, Rasch BW, Fleming J, Nazos P, Baranowsi S (1996) Is attention deficit disorder becoming a desired diagnosis? Phi Delta Kappan 77:429–432Google Scholar
  25. Timimi S, Taylor E (2004) ADHD is best understood as a cultural construct. Br J Psychiatry 184:8–9PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Weiner B (1992) Human motivation: metaphors, theories and research. Sage, CaliforniaGoogle Scholar
  27. Winzelberg KS (1996) The analysis of an electronic support group for individuals with eating disorders. Comput Hum Behav 13:393–407CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Experimental PsychologyUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK
  2. 2.Cambian LodgeSutton in AshfieldUK
  3. 3.School of PsychologyUniversity of WalesBangorUK

Personalised recommendations