Friday, September 16th, 2011
Parents have access to all kinds of scientific information these days via multiple media sources. This is, in principle, a good thing. But let’s face it, scientific findings are being used to promote parental fear that far exceeds the actual information content that can guide parenting. Does SpongeBob SquarePants cause learning problems? Are kids being poisoned by apple juice?
Here’s the thing for me: the big splashes created by the “SpongeBob Study” and the “Arsenic In Apple Juice Story” rested on findings that are either preliminary, limited, or suspect. Here at Parents.com, Holly Lebowitz Rossi’s Parents News Now has been right on top of the Dr. Oz apple juice story – both the initial claims and now the reaction by the FDA. If you haven’t already, do read her post so that you can learn how the warning to parents may have been, um, misleading. (Thank you, Holly, for sorting this out – especially as my daughter had apple juice this week). So what should parents think about science these days? Is it there to inform us, or scare us?
What I suggest is that parents adopt the perspective that (I think!) still dominates research. Start off with a healthy level of skepticism when you hear about a new study that is making a huge claim that will totally change something you will do as a parent. Seek out more (hopefully trusted) information and sort through all the messy details that characterize science and research. Then see how you feel about it — there are times that you may indeed find a take-home message that changes what you do as a parent, whereas other times you will find confirmation that you should keep doing what you are doing. And sometimes you will conclude that a given study does not offer any information about what concerns you (so, for example, you may either like or not like the content of SpongeBob SquarePants, but it’s important to know that the recent study wasn’t about content at all). You can approach science in the media the way you do everything else: by being a discerning parent and scrutinizing the existing information to determine what works best for your child and your family life.
What are kids watch or don’t watch on TV is a personal choice. Same thing for the drinks that we choose for our children. Ideally, research should provide information that parents can use to guide their choices. I think that’s a great thing. All I’m saying is to seek out the real story so that you can factor science into your decision-making without scaring the heck out of you.