THE INTERNET: PARENT EMPOWERMENT!
Woodbury IECA, CEP
Lon Woodbury is a member of the Independent Education
Consultant Association (IECA) and a certified educational
planner who has worked with schools and programs
for struggling teens since 1984. He offers a nationwide
referral service for parents of adolescents with
behavioral and emotional problems, writes an education
newsletter, Woodbury Reports, and publishes a directory
as part of the results of his research into which
schools and programs of quality are available for
the child who is making poor decisions. You may
contact Mr. Woodbury by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
or by visiting www.strugglingteens.com. The following
article is reprinted from Three
Springs Paradigm magazine, Summer 2003, Vol. 7 No. 2]
years ago, a parent would have walked into a mental
health professional’s office and said, “I have a
problem with Johnny, can you help me?” Now, parents
walk into the office with a stack of research they
have pulled off the Internet.
the Internet as a challenge for parents is an understatement.
In regards to protecting their children, or filtering
valid from invalid information, the Internet provides
opportunities, challenges and dangers that parents
never imagined a decade ago.
THE OLD AND NEW PARADIGM
Much has been written about how the explosion of the
Internet has created a paradigm shift in the way our
society communicates and shares information. The Internet
now allows parents with special needs children to bypass
the societal filters that have developed over the past
100 years to protect citizens from bad information
and harmful influences. In the past, centralized media
sources and professional associations were essentially
the “gatekeepers” that maintained the filters upon
which parents depended on. Now, empowered parents are
left to their own devises to determine which information
WHAT PARENT EMPOWERMENT MEANS
The upside of the growth of the Internet is parent
empowerment. When looking for resources for their child
in crisis, parents have unlimited access to information.
A simple Internet search can reveal the existence of
schools, programs and professionals that parents would
not have been likely to encounter before the Internet.
Not only do parents now have more choices than ever
before, but, more importantly, this increased availability
of knowledge empowers them to take responsibility for
intervening when their child is making very poor decisions.
This increased knowledge means that parents are no
longer totally dependent on the advice of physicians,
mental health professionals, law enforcement personnel
or other professionals to intervene or find resources
for their children.
The downside of the Internet is that people can claim
anything and characterize themselves in any way they
wish with no editorial or publication policy or professional
standards to restrict what they can say on a web site.
This has allowed poorly designed programs to develop
slick marketing web pages that can misrepresent the
quality of information while not being accountable
to anyone. Unfortunately, some parents equate polished
advertising with quality programming and are attracted
to poor quality programs that look very good on the
Web. The filters that parents have previously depended
on to screen for quality no longer work in the era
of the Internet.
DECENTRALIZED DECISION MAKING
Essentially, the ability to communicate information
has been drastically decentralized by the Internet.
In the past, one way or another, the distribution of
information about schools and programs and placement
decisions was controlled, or at least strongly influenced,
by centralized institutions. Peer review was a fairly
effective way to filter out unreliable information.
Accountability was maintained because publicity and
marketing depended to a large extent on the approval
of the publication running the advertisement or story.
In addition, a rigorous system of state regulatory
agencies existed to keep an eye on programs in their
jurisdictions, and parents depended on these “gatekeepers”
to do the screening for them. It wasn’t a perfect system,
but it did effectively filter out many poor quality
schools and programs, which in turn could not attract
enough parents to be financially successful.
The filters worked well enough in the past that many
parents relied upon them, and now they continue to
assume the current information they hear or read is
valid because it had been similarly screened. I first
encountered this commonly accepted attitude while in
high school when I was told that a particular newspaper
story “must be true or it wouldn’t have been published.”
Another popular attitude was that, “the doctor [professional]
knows best!” Although this was a rather naïve
attitude, at the time these filters worked at least
well enough that they somewhat justified parents having
this kind of trust in professionals and the media.
PARENTS ARE BYPASSING PROFESSIONALS
This is no longer the case! The Internet now allows
parents to pay attention to any resource that catches
their eye while ignoring differing opinions, no matter
how well founded. Direct marketing is becoming the
rule. Unfortunately, many parents seem to still have
the old naïve blind faith that even on the Internet,
“someone” will ensure that what they read is true!
Every week I hear from upset parents who enrolled their
child in the first program they found on the Internet
or figured those at the top of the search engines are
there because they must be the best. It seems parents
who grew up with the old filters are still depending
on them to be in place.
PARENTAL RESPONSIBILITY IN THE INTERNET ERA
Since an important trend in society is toward empowering
parents, one part of the solution will be for all professionals
in this field to help parents have access to good,
complete and adequate information. Also, parents must
fully realize that just because the person on the phone
or from a Web site is smooth and understanding, it
does not mean that he or she has the parents’ or child’s
best interests in mind. In other words, as parents
become empowered with greater access to all kinds of
information, they enter a more precarious, “buyer beware”
environment. The following guidelines can help parents
establish their own filters that will serve the same
function as the fading societal filters once played,
ensuring more reliable information with which to make
enrollment decisions for their child.
parents become empowered with greater access to all
kinds of information, they enter a more precarious
“buyer beware” environment.
GUIDELINES FOR PARENTS
explore in depth at least three unconnected and
different types of schools or programs. Then, listen
to your instincts. If something doesn’t feel right,
then it probably isn’t.
web sites that don’t identify the key people who
operate the business, whether a school or referral
agency, no matter how perfect it seems.
referral agencies, always know the background of
the people with whom you are speaking, and satisfy
yourself that their claim of expertise is justified.
While being a parent of a special needs child is
helpful, it is not sufficient.
that as a parent you know your child better than
any professional. Never forget this!
referral agencies that claim to give free advice
how they earn their money. It is naïve to
think a person is spending massive amounts of time
helping parents without being paid in some way.
Whoever is paying them is their employer. If you
are not paying them, they are probably working
for someone else!
a second independent opinion is always your right,
and can be very helpful.
about the quality of a particular school or program
is the wrong question. The more important question
is whether the particular school or program you
are considering is best suited for your child.
parents advising you on placement might have their
own personal agenda, which is not necessarily in
the best interest of you or your child.
reputation among peers is a very good indication
of quality. Is the referring professional member
of the Independent Educational Consultant’s Association
(IECA), or is he or she a Certified Educational
Planner (CEP)? Is the school or program a member
of the National Association of Therapeutic Schools
and Programs (NATSAP), a member of some other independent
professional organization, or are they included
in the Woodbury Reports directory, Places for Struggling
Teens? If so, then the consultant or program has
gained at least some positive recognition among
his/her peers and has met some basic criteria.
is more important to find the right match for your
child than it is to find a place close to home.
lower cost tuition might mean the program hires
minimum wage or improperly trained staff to work
directly with your child.
a child to change his or her attitudes and behavior
takes as long as it takes. Attempting to do so
within a pre-determined time frame is treating
the child like a flat tire.
punishment philosophy, typically found in boot
camps, usually backfires and, with untrained staff,
can result in abuse.
school can help you with a placement only when
the school and parents are fully open with each
to research placement options without experienced
professional advice is like representing yourself
in court; it is your right, but it increases the
likelihood of disaster.
for professional advise is just that, picking the
brain of a trained individual so you can make the
final decision. Beware of a professional that tells
you exactly what to do.
that parents are more empowered by the vast quantity
of options they learn about on the Internet, it
is the parents’ responsibility to filter out inappropriate
placements - not to leave it up to professionals.
For parents, along with more empowerment, comes
article is reprinted with permission from Three Springs
Paradigm magazine, Summer 2003, Vol.
7 No. 2] http://www.onlineparadigm.com