Why’s it so hard to find good parenting information?
I wrote this article in 2017 for the digital media company I launched, Parentifact, the first fact-checking website for parents. This was our first longform article, which is meant both to demonstrate our journalism pedigree, and attract a larger audience to the site through search and social sharing by producing content of uniquely high value.
Polly Palumbo became a mom in 2000. Like many new parents, she had lots of questions, the most fundamental of which was this: where can I find good answers to all these questions?
She should have been overqualified for the job. She has a PhD and background in psychology, so she had no problem parsing even the most complex studies in academic journals.
But grasping complicated information wasn’t her problem – it was avoiding misinformation in parenting magazines and the mass media.
“As a researcher, I would look at these articles and think, ‘Good lord,’” she said recently. “It’s just not right. It’s not up to date with the science.”
Palumbo thought she could help. She pitched some of her own ideas to the top parenting publications, explaining the latest details on mothers’ and children’s health.
“I had editors tell me, ‘We’re not interested in talking about studies and evidence. They told me that I really had to tamp down language about research,” she said. “It was like, ‘Oh gosh, don’t say science.’
It took a few more years of frustration with the lack of quality parenting reporting for Palumbo to launch her own blog, called Momma Data. For more than a decade now, she’s explained the research on raising children from an evidence-based point of view, and been critical about outlets and columnists who exaggerate and distort reality.
Laura Sanders has a similar story. She’s a writer for Science News, and had her first child in 2013.
“When I was out on maternity leave, I started talking to my editor about how hard it was to find good information,” she said.
They came up with a dedicated parenting blog on Science News called Growth Curve, the tagline of which is “The inexact science of raising kids.”
“We’re fighting this ocean of misinformation, but hopefully we can add a drop of goodness with solid science,” Sanders said.
She’s not exaggerating. Publications like Momma Data and Growth Curve are still few and far between in the parenting media landscape, which accounts for all the books, magazines, websites, podcasts, etc., specifically targeted at parents, as well as the general interest outlets that occasionally produce parenting-related stories, from your local news station to newspaper op-ed pages. In this environment, for every Polly Palumbo and Laura Sanders, there are dozens of self-proclaimed gurus spouting pseudoscience, hundreds of reporters judged by clicks rather than accuracy, and thousands of bloggers and social media influencers who purely exist to push sponsored products.
“The Internet will give you unlimited advice and information. The problem is it’s a messy mix of opinions and parenting philosophy. Much of it is conflicting, and only some of it is accurate,” writes Alice Callahan, yet another mother who created her own blog, Science of Mom, because she was frustrated with the parenting media.
How can it be that something as fundamental to human existence as raising children has such a lack of reliable media sources? How is it that there are more sophisticated options for getting information about business, politics and even sports than there are about parenting? How is it that some of the best options available are from a few new parents who decided to take matters into their own hands, as if they’re enthusiasts of an obscure hobby?
In other words, why’s it so hard to find good parenting information?
If we can answer this core question, it might be a lot easier to get answers to all parents’ other questions.