Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Top Parenting News in 2013?

The past year in the parenting media. What can I say? I survived it. Kudos to you too for slogging through another year of suspect advice, warnings, threats and claims. We made it. To mark the occasion I briefly thought about assembling a review of the past year of parenting articles, studies and advice, perhaps a Top Ten List but I've made clear my love/hate affair with lists. Anyhow these annual reviews are much easier imagined then done, at least when done properly.

How could I cull the enormous volume of information thrown at parents over the past 365 days? A good starting place might be the daily updates beckoning from my inbox. These seductive messages span a wide range of content and sources from the more serious science news distributors to the fluffier parenting websites. In terms of the latter somehow I've missed reading these destined classics in the parenting canon:

from HuffPo:

A Father's Letter About Sex
Victorian Breastfeeding Photos
The Devastating Condition That Affects 3 Million Moms
The One Word I'm Not Willing To Say
The Question I Never Want My Husband To Ask
What Happened When My Son Wore A Pink Headband to Walmart

from Babble:

Study Suggests Being "Catty" Is Part of a Woman's DNA
Would You Rent a Boyfriend for the Holidays?
Man Sues Wife for "Ugly" Children
Confession: I Don't Bathe My Baby
Can A Nanny Hurt Your Marriage?
8 Celebrity Moms Speak Out On Syria

I don't know which devastating condition affects 3 million moms or what happened to the boy with the pink hair accessories. The One Word? I have no idea. Thankfully.

True the above sites had some fine articles including instances in which writers cited a study or two without confusing correlation with causation, exaggerating the importance of the results or otherwise botching the empirical evidence. These were the exception though. Am I being too harsh? I don't expect nuanced evidenced-based discussions on those sites but they reach a very large audience and those confessions, controversies and assorted other dramas, real or manufactured, can spread misinformation faster than a Mean Girl on Instagram. I could have just as easily added to the above selections a number of other large sites that dabble in parenting with the same degree of nuance and accuracy. Unfortunately I'd include the popular parenting websites in this category.

Another tactic, I could focus on the enterprises dedicated to more fact-based reporting. The traditional news suspects, the New York Times, the LA Times, etc. keep growing kiddie content with more blogs, online columns and other less rigorously edited fare. Would I only include the articles that made it into print thereby passing up the online offerings? Would I include only the articles appearing in the science, health or front page sections in an effort to screen out the less accurate pieces?

If I'm going with the more respected or established newsy site than how do Salon, Slate, Time and others fit in? What about other well-regarded players that though they're not the typical parenting or health venues once in a while feature good articles of interest to parents. Here I'm thinking Wired, The Atlantic, The New Yorker. Then there are the health websites, the for-profit ones (WebMD) and the wonky academic and government non-profit ones. Oh and the endless blogosphere. Would I only peruse parenting blogs?

Last but not least there's the research itself and the constant stream of published and too often unpublished studies coming at me via updates from Reuters, Eureka, ScienceDaily, ScienceNews, university press offices, non-profit research centers and the academic journals.

I'm not sure how one individual could review the mass of child-related discoveries, recommendations and supposed facts in the media over the past twelve months. Even if I could systematically remove a portion of the media (the less serious? the least popular that also might be the most serious?) to make it more manageable, it would take a full-time staff of highly trained media watchers plus either an unpaid intern or virtual assistant (Bernadette, come back!) to wade through it. So first off it's clear that the feat of reviewing all the articles, studies, and claims would require extraordinary patience and energy.

But how would I try to do it?

I could pick what I perceive to be the most important studies of the year. From a purely scientific stand point it's wise to wait a few years if not decades to weigh in on the ultimate value. If I were a purist, I'd want to make sure those supposedly notable findings held up over time but that doesn't mean it's not worth trying to pick some that reach a level of value now in terms of being unique, timely and scientifically rigorous. Given the loose parameters today for what passes as newsworthy findings, it makes sense to try to choose some good or relevant pieces of research. Biological anthropologist Gwen Dewar, a long time friend of Momma Data, solved the dilemma on her BabyCenter blog by choosing the studies she found the most persuasive and timely (hello, Tiger Mom?):
In 2013 there were a lot of science stories relevant to parenting. Some of them were theoretical and fun, like the brain scan study that might explain why parents think their babies are “delicious.” Others were simply awesome, like the study suggesting that babies begin learning language before they are born. 
But there were also many stories with practical implications, stories suggesting that our parenting choices make a difference to kids. Here is a countdown of such stories — the ten studies that impressed me the most.
I won't spoil it. Go ahead and read her list of the top parenting stories of 2013. 

No surprise parenting sites have weighed in with their own Year's Best/Top Ten offerings. Take this curated selection presented by Parents.com, the Top 12 Parenting News Stories. Now this organization is not exactly the bastion of accurate news but I can report their items include some empirical studies about breastfeeding, teen birth rates, IVF and bisphenol a. Sure they also work in the Royal Baby, Angelina's double mastectomy and Yahoo's Marissa Mayer and the whole work/life balance. Let me be clear though that I cannot endorse their take on the cited studies even if they stuck in some scientific jargon:
Although there is no definitive link, the findings did indicate a "biological plausibility" that BPA can cause miscarriages and that women who already have trouble conceiving or who have experienced repeated pregnancy losses had a higher risk of miscarrying.
Biological plausibility. BPA soooo causes miscarriages.

Not to be outdone, Time.com, the purveyors of the annual Top 10 Everything, brought us the Top 10 Things We Learned about Parenting.Their list features one of the more memorable qualifying statements in the recent parenting media in reference to the scientifically significant (but of questionable real-world significance) finding that attentive fathers had smaller testicles:
Researchers couldn’t say whether the testes size caused the difference or whether the act of becoming a dad caused the testicles to shrink in men who were diverting their attention from mating to fathering. 
For those concerned with gender equity, I suppose this latest potential contribution to the annals of physical damage wrought by parenthood comes as cold comfort. For the record I refuse to comment further on it and most certainly that other study of male anatomy much in the media except to express my relief the latter no longer tops Time's list of the Most Popular Health and Family selections, yes the most viewed article for months.

What studies did you enjoy from the past year? Do any studies or parenting articles stick out in your mind? Better yet, how are coping with the vast array of parenting fare?

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