As a writer and a parent, I know how hard it is to resist the lure of that next sensational finding. These new studies fuel many parenting websites—and they fool parents into thinking that the science of infancy and childhood is filled with breaking news. They appear to offer parents peer-reviewed proof of what they should do. Any parent would want this sort of certainty; I do. Ironically, though, by paying attention to any given study, parents are more likely to end up more addled and less certain, even less knowledgeable, than they were before. They may think they’re seeing the forest—that they’re seeing how babies work—when they’re actually looking at a single tree.Bravo.
But I don't agree that each new study makes or has to make parents "addled" or "less knowledgeable" - especially the folks here who are familiar with the ups and downs, the ins and outs of trying to study tiny humans. The more a person reads, the greater the familiarity with the literature and the more likely he or she is to accurately assess the importance of a finding and yes, when appropriate, completely trash it or disregard it. But I get it. I hear it. I hear the frustration over whether a few drinks during pregnancy is no biggie or the ultimate negligent parenting behavior.
Uncertainty can be a buzz kill. Parenting is difficult enough without the constant second-guessing from the supposed experts.
The onslaught of sensationalized studies adds to the uncertainty for sure, especially when one finding conflicts with another. But it's also true that valuable studies open up more questions, more avenues to explore and yes, more less-than-crystal-clear answers. Keeping informed means meeting up with a lot of uncertainty and contradictory or confusing findings. Entertaining uncertainties, the unknowns, is an asset in science and heck, life in general. Staying informed, whether alert to a good study, a bad one or the inherent contradictions of science, doesn't have to be painful. In fact flawed or exaggerated/misinterpreted studies provide ample opportunities for knowledge too. They make for excellent tutorials and fodder for parenting blogs focused on botched empirical evidence.
Anyhow the days are past when parents can sit back and wait for the final word on pacifiers, potty training or exclusive breastfeeding. The studies are here, pick a strategy for coping. You have a choice, peeps. You can choose confused, addled and irritated. You can stop reading. You can stop listening. You can adhere to the advice of your pediatrician, best friend, lactation consultant, sleep coach, playdate director or homework tutor.
Or you can get good at quickly judging each new study.
How do you want to live? Of course this is a hypothetical as your choice is pretty clear if you're still reading...
Yes I'm cranky. It's hot, humid, I just broke into my house (all too easily) after getting locked out and after months of clean living there's a new virus on my laptop thanks to my daughter's unauthorized computer time. I don't need extra addling this afternoon. You?