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This is the Parenting meta discussion equivalent to the same question on Meta.Law.SE, which as of this posting is featured at the top of the top questions list there. Some of the discussion there might be informative, but I don't want to assume more connection between the communities or how they operate than is really accurate.

In the Help Center, we have the standard Stack Exchange verbiage:

You should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face.

Is that strictly true on this site?

On Law.SE, questions that specific are actually off-topic because they're seeking legal advice for the asker's specific situation, and some of the top-rated questions are hypothetical or historical.

On Parenting.SE, in a related discussion about having to be factually accurate, Erica writes:

Interestingly, How To Ask could be read to imply that a hypothetical question (if asked well) is useful for the community.
Make it clear how your question is relevant to more people than just you, and more of us will be interested in your question and willing to look into it.

She also refers to this answer in this discussion on the limits of subjectivity. That meta discussion came out of this question which was about a factually accurate real-life problem that somebody else actually faced (but which I and perhaps other readers might want to be prepared to face in advance), and was therefore subjected to the criticism that "If it's not based on an actual problem you've faced, then it's not on topic for this site." That critique was restated and expanded on here.

The impression I get is that even if I know somebody who is facing or has faced a particular problem, unless I am personally facing it myself, it's off topic and should not be asked on this site. Similarly, it is not appropriate to ask questions about things that may happen again in the future that one wants to be prepared for, unless they have happened to the person asking the question in the past or present as well. Is that the language and policy we want?

Here's a meta discussion for the bold question above.

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    Ironically, WorldBuilding also has "actual problems that you face" on their don't ask page -- I'd have thought they were entirely about hypotheticals :) – Acire Mar 23 '16 at 16:20
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A question can have an element of hypotheticality without being off-topic; for example, Erica's answer that you linked to in this question mentions asking a question about breastfeeding, prior to giving birth. That's an example of a somewhat-hypothetical question that's still on topic, because the actual problem being faced is that of "planning ahead". I would expect that someone who asks such a question (or their partner) is either currently pregnant, or they are considering/planning/attempting to become pregnant in the near future.

But in the case of your question about runaways, the likelihood of a teenager, whom you've never met, showing up at your door and asking to stay with you seems so utterly remote, that there doesn't appear to be any practical value in planning ahead for such a scenario - unless there's some particular reason that this is far more likely to happen to you than to the average person (in which case, including said reason in your question will help keep it from looking like an unnecessary "seed" question). Actually, at first, it just looked like a typical "first post" in need of refinement; my perception of the question as "too hypothetical to be useful" only came after several attempts to garner further details were redirected to a radio broadcast recording.

In the interest of helping you get your question reopened, I'll quote this text from Erica's answer to a related discussion (emphasis mine):

All that being said, a question still needs to be asked well to have value and members of Parenting.SE should treat other users with respect. Not only does this include a reasonable background description, but it also needs the OP to be engaged in the process: answering clarifying questions raised in comments, providing feedback to answers, and accepting the best one. Repeated failure to properly engage in the process is a bigger deal in my opinion than whether their question topics are fully based in reality...

Your question was closed as unclear; a few of us asked questions in the comments, and most of them were not answered beyond "more details are in this link".


To address the additional paragraph recently added to this meta question: it's perfectly reasonable to ask a question on behalf of someone else. Where it gets tricky is when you ask about a situation that doesn't impact you or anyone you know, because then, it can make prospective answerers feel like it would be a waste of time to answer, that you don't actually need any help.

For more information on this, see When is a seed question too bad? and Robert's answer on that question.


Additionally, I don't believe it's valid to draw a parallel between Parenting.SE and Law.SE in terms of their current discussion on this topic. The "actual problems" verbiage is standard protocol across the Stack Exchange network, but it makes sense to reevaluate it on Law, because there it directly conflicts with their explicitly off-topic subject of requesting legal advice. There's no similar conflict on this site.

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  • I dislike the strictness of this, because it reduces the agency of the OP in determining the value of their question -- borders on questioning the premise. Requiring a level of "proof" that a question meets a threshold of validity (a) is difficult, and (b) runs contrary to being welcoming to users who have an embarrassing or difficult-to-discuss question. I remember thinking this question couldn't possibly be real -- but someone reminded me to check my privilege. It's impossible that I would face that situation, but not everyone is so lucky. – Acire Mar 24 '16 at 11:45
  • @Erica, I've edited to clarify that the OP's interactions with the community in this case were an element in my perception of the question's validity. – Dan Henderson Mar 24 '16 at 13:55
  • @Erica Does my last edit, narrowing that strictness to specific interactions on the particular post, make this answer resonate any better with you now? – Dan Henderson Mar 29 '16 at 1:31
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    "In the case of the question about runaways, the likelihood…seems so utterly remote, that there doesn't appear to be any practical value" is also a "check your privilege" moment showing this community to not be very open to people in different situations. – Burned Mar 30 '16 at 4:10
  • Something like that happened to me, and I wish I could have known what was possible. Like the runaway in question, the person offered to cook and clean etc. and even pay a bit, and was a little older to make this a bit more credible. The request was only a couple months and I did have a spare room available, so I figured “how bad could it be” and then I found out the answer to that question. Intentional property destruction, forceful takeover (kicking me out of my own place!), terrifying threats, etc. and it was all my fault for allowing the person to enter in the first place. – Burned Mar 30 '16 at 4:12
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You should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face.

"Based" is the operative word here. The point of this is that good questions are not purely hypothetical: they have enough detail because they are based on reality. Not strictly real - but based on real. Questions based purely on hypotheticals rarely work out all that well - because they just don't have the detail. I could ask:

How can I help a seventeen year old boy who's having a hard time reading Shakespeare?

And it might well be an interesting question, but odds are I don't have a good enough sense of what a seventeen year old boy who's trying to read shakespeare but failing needs - because I have a four year old and a three year old, and myself as a seventeen year old had no trouble at all with Shakespeare.

Thus, when asked questions like:

Does he have a hard time reading in general?

Does he have a hard time reading the language because of the age of the works?

Does he read out loud?

I couldn't really answer those questions, right? The question would pretty much be guaranteed to be too broad: the answers would be expected to cover every possible problem, and while it's possible they'd be pretty useful, you'd end up with a few dozen different answers none of which applied to a real child.

And, on top of that, most of the questions based entirely on hypotheticals end up being bad in general: they are more topics for discussion, something somebody thought of in the shower one day and decided to put down on paper. I don't have statistics on this, so this is just opinion, but I think it's a reasonable one.

As such: yes, I'd suggest it be fairly strict. Not 100% strict - I don't think we need to ask everyone if they're basing their question on reality; and if someone does ask a hypothetical question that's quite good on its own, I wouldn't close it. But, I would hold questions like that to a very high standard: they need to be excellent questions with sufficient detail and effectively be indistinguishable from a real problem.

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This is a copy of what, as of time of posting, is the top-voted answer in the Meta.Law.SE discussion.

How about going from:

You should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face.

to:

You should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that could exist in the real world.

The "could" clearly allows for hypotheticals, but the rest of the clause limits the set of hypotheticals in a way that seems consistent with the intended meaning (if that limit isn't needed, just end the sentence after "questions.").

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