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Situation

Parenting Stack Exchange can be an extremely subjective environment to ask and answer questions. We have tailored our Tour, Help, and FAQs to guide new and existing users on the areas that are on and off topic. Anything within those "on topic" arenas typically means that, while the question may still be marginally subjective, there can be objective answers that meet the parameters of the given question.

For the life of Parenting.SE, there have always been answers to certain questions that try and challenge the very premise of the question. We will keep the same lingo as other Stack Exchange sites have done and call this a "frame challenge" answer - an answer that challenges the premise or frame of the question.

Examples in summary


Question: I want my child to learn {x} skill. How can I teach my child this skill?

Frame Challenge Answer: Don't teach your child {x} skill. It's not useful. Try this {y} skill instead.


Question: How do I get my teenager to clean their room? They aren't doing it now and it needs to be clean.

Frame Challenge Answer: Your teenager needs to worry about other things. You should clean their room for them.


Question: How can I get my daughter to toughen up? She always cries when other kids call her names.

Frame Challenge Answer: Your daughter doesn't need to toughen up, she needs protection from being bullied.


# The question

It has always been said as doctrine of the site that "we don't challenge the premise of the question?" yet it was recently pointed out that there is no clear, definite ruling on this in Meta, in the Help, or in the Tour. There have been questions asked about this in the past - this example specifically - but it was never really set in stone as to appropriate responses for frame challenge answers.

Thus the question is at the forefront again. Does Parenting.SE entertain frame-challenge answers? Do we argue the premise of a question?

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Rewritten in an attempt to better fit the format of a suggested practice

I would like to suggest that Yes, frame challenges should be accepted, but as with any other answer, they must be written in the spirit of providing helpful guidance to the asker - ParentingSE is not, after all a discussion forum.

My issues with current practice:

Unnecessarily broad ruling

An all-out ban on FC responses appears to either assume that such answers are inherently problematic, or that they are problematic to such an extent that we can afford to lose the would-be helpful FC's, both of which I think is false.

Due to the current practice, we don't have good data to base this discussion on. Only a very limited set of people have insight into all the FC's that have been deleted, and nobody has any idea of the number of helpful FC's that have simply not been written. Anecdotally, I have certainly refrained from answering questions with what I assume would have been helpful responses, knowing that they are of a kind that is not allowed here. I know there are workarounds and loopholes, but occasionally, the question is such that the threshold for participation becomes too high under the current ruling. The data we do have is from what the site looked like prior to these rules, but while I was not personally around at the time, my gut feeling is that the negative responses the rules put and end to were more noticeable than the positive responses we were missing out on, which is not necessarily to say we struck a desirable balance.

I hold that many times a frame challenge is the best response to a question, and that we cannot accept a practice that in many cases disallows the best answers. If we find that such responses are problem-prone, we must find a definition of the rules that targets the problem areas with greater specificity, and that will still permit the desirable responses.

Unrealistic expectations of site-specific knowledge

Current practice is that asker should clearly state if they accept out-of-premise responses, or the default assumption is that they don't. I think this is an inversion of both the asker-respondent dynamic, where askers will typically be less site-savvy than other users, and expecting them to know about key phrases to include in their answers is setting a high bar, and at odds with how FC's work: whenever the asker is aware of another view that might come up in responses, and is able to comment on that, is the area when we should expect FC responses to be least helpful. Indicative of a helpful FC is that the asker hasn't considered that there may be other approaches, and as such would think to comment on it.

The person who knows that they're asking about a hot-button discussion-prone issue, or the savvy user who is aware of other options but at the particular moment has a specific interest in one small niche area of a problem, and isn't investigating the bigger picture: these are the people who we can expect to explicitly state the boundaries of their questions, and identify which kinds of responses they don't want. I think it makes a lot more sense to default to all answers accepted, and expect those who aren't interested in that to say so.

It also appears to me that the current practice has arbitrary results, based on coincidental aspects of how the question is worded. For a question following the format "I cannot get my child to do X. Do you have any suggestions?", I have seen argued (by well initiated users) that an acceptable response would be (something tantamount to) "Ignore getting them to do X, it's not important", while such a response had been prohibited if the question had been "Do you have any suggestions for how to get my child to do X?"

I think the two example questions are functionally equivalent and should allow for the same responses. The fact that in one version, it is explicitly stated that the goal is to get the child to comply, whereas the former question is more open-ended, is coincidental. We cannot assume that that wording is the result of a deliberate judgment call by the original poster; that's not how language works.

I think that both requiring the knowledge of a magic phrase to explicitly allow FC responses, and the requirement of the asker to take extreme caution not to include any unnecessary assumptions into their problem statement is setting unreasonable expectations of the question asker.

The problem with asking permission in comments

A current workaround is to ask for clarification in comments on whether the asker accepts FC responses. I agree that this looks good enough on paper, but have had difficulties with this approach in practice.

A frame challenge is typically most helpful when it provides a new view that the asker has not at all conceived of. By nature, these require most explanations to ask about. A simple question in comments will bring to mind the type of FC's that are not generally helpful, so to be meningful, that comment will have to come with a lot of clarification. Typically, the new framing is the answer. The vast majority of times I've begun typing such a comment, I've abandoned it as I've found the comment to be a better fit as an answer than a comment, but also not allowed as an answer.

My suggested practice:

In my opinion, useful frame challenges are immensely valuable. Parents arrive at this page when what they're currently doing isn't working, and simply handing them new tools to keep down the same dysfunctional path will a lot of times only get you so far. As a collective, I absolutely believe we are at most helpful when we can affect the way a parent views a problematic parenting situation, in ways they wouldn't have conceived of. I think it would be a great loss for both the community and the parents (and by extension, their children) if such frame challenges were not duly appreciated here.

At the same time, we must recognize that ParentingSE is not a discussion forum, and that parenting is a deeply personal problem space. Crucially, we are not here to push our own agendas. It should not be important to the respondent that the asker adapt their values. To my mind, the hallmark of the kind of frame challenges we want to allow is that they help the parent fulfill their own values.

If the question is of the format "I need to get to Camelot fast. Do you have advice on the best pair of coconut halves, to mimic the sound of clappering horses?", you can challenge the minor premise as long as you honor the major premise. Thus, you'd be able to say "I don't know about coconut halves, but I know where you can find yourself an actual horse", but you wouldn't be able to say "Don't go to Camelot, it is a silly place."

I would also go as far as to say that the major premise doesn't have to be explicitly mentioned. Quite often, an underlying value is implied in the question, without being explicitly stated. If we can clearly see what problem the asker is trying to solve, I think we should be able to provide suggestions even if they are outside the scope that the asker has considered. The absolute majority of the time I expect this will be helpful. There may of course be instances where we miss the mark, and our particular answer is not of value to the poster, but there's a big step from that to saying the answer is offensive or that the poster might feel unwelcome.

There are plenty of ways to make a new user feel unwelcome. They should be dealt with, but I cannot see that as a problem inherent or endemic to FC's.

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  • I really do agree with some of what you are saying. I don't disagree that constructive frame challenge answers exist. I would say with confidence that the non-constructive far outweigh the constructive though. Perhaps there is a place for suggestion that challenge the premise but that still means that you must first answer the question given. You are correct in that most users who come here asking questions that could leads to these types of answers don't know the magical phrase to allow them.
    – SomeShinyObject Mod
    Jun 24 '20 at 22:19
  • This is why we have comments. "Would you mind if I give an answer that suggests an alternative to what you are asking?" and if they say yes, go for it. Perhaps we should have a tag for this. Something like "FCA Accepted" or something along that line. The point being here that the only person who can request or reject these types of answers is the person who is asking the question.
    – SomeShinyObject Mod
    Jun 24 '20 at 22:23
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    I think a tag would require the same sense of special insight into the particulars of the site as a magic phrase, and is not something we can expect of newcomers. I strongly feel we should have rules against the problematic behaviour specifically, rather than a large category of responses of which a subset may be problematic.
    – dxh
    Jun 25 '20 at 11:25
  • We all have the ability (beyond a reputation level) to edit questions and their tags.
    – SomeShinyObject Mod
    Jun 25 '20 at 11:28
  • I'm sorry, I'm probably misunderstanding that suggestion and then. When would I edit a question to add that tag? To do that, I would first have to explicitly ask the asker about this? If I need to do that, what value does the tag add? If I can add it without asking, what value does the tag add?
    – dxh
    Jun 25 '20 at 12:16
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    Two reasons off the top of my head: seeing a tag is a faster than reading through comments and accidental comment clean up
    – SomeShinyObject Mod
    Jun 25 '20 at 12:21
  • Sure. It seems to me to be very tangential to the discussion on whether or not frame challenges should be accepted on the site, but I don't have a strong opinion one way or the other regarding such a tag.
    – dxh
    Jun 25 '20 at 12:29
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    Meta-tags are not generally preferred in StackExchange, so I wouldn't support fca.
    – Joe
    Jun 25 '20 at 14:23
  • @Some: I've updated my response, and am suggesting another distinction for what constitutes a helpful FC. I think it will work better in practice than the idea of also providing an answer, which is to be honest how we try to get away with FC's under the current system.
    – dxh
    Jun 26 '20 at 18:41
3

tl;dr: Yes, good frame challenges are ok. But ideally also try to provide a non-frame challenge answer.


I agree with dxh's answer that a good, respectful frame challenge can be very valuable. However, a problem with frame challenge answers (as pointed out in other answers) is that they can be taken as an attack on the premises and beliefs expressed in the question: "How dare you suggest I do not know my child's abilities / my spouses preferences?" etc.

To avoid this problem, that is to "soften the blow" of a frame challenge, one approach I have found helpful is to provide both a regular and a frame challenge answer.

For example:

Q: I want my child to eat more healthy broccoli, but they persistently refuse. What do I do?

A: Part 1 (direct answer): Many children are distrustful of food they do not know. Getting them to accept it takes persistence, and patience. Some things that may help are: Finding a sauce your child likes, cooking together with them, blending the broccoli.

Part 2 (frame challenge): In addition to that, I feel it is generally not a good idea to fight about a child's food choices. If you regularly serve a variety of healthy food, your child will generally end up with a healthy diet. Focusing on a specific type of food will create needless conflict, and may even teach the child that eating is a chore rather than a pleasure and may cause them difficulties later on.

Yes, this makes answers longer, and takes more work. But I feel the advantages outweigh this:

  • The direct answers shows OP that their premise was understood and respected.
  • The direct answer can also illustrate why the premise is problematic, and thereby helps OP understand why the frame challenge was written.

I have found this approach very useful.

-2

Frame challenges in Parenting are damaging, not only because they encourage arguments - which is explicitly and unarguably problematic in this framework - but, primarily, because they make the asker feel unwelcome.

Think of Parenting as your group of not-very-close friends who you hang out with from time to time, where you might have a parenting issue that's bothering you and you bring it up at the bar/café. "I want to teach Kyle [my two year old] how to bake muffins," you say, "Not help me bake muffins, but I want to teach them how to do it so they can on their own."

Your friend, Alex, says:

"Oh yeah, that's awesome. Here's this muffin recipe I found online, it's really easy and should be a great basis for teaching them - it has only three ingredients, and they can just mix them together and toss them in the pan, no problem. Make sure to think carefully about how they can safely use the oven, though, and of course monitor them as you always would."

Your friend Jaime says:

"I don't think you should teach a two year old how to bake. It's too dangerous - they might get burnt, or worse. Wait until they're five; that's when we taught our little ones, and at that point they were able to do it without getting hurt."

Your friend Taryn says:

"I'm not sure I agree it's a good idea to do that. Would you like me to tell you my thoughts on that, or are you set on doing it?"

Finally, your friend Sam just hangs out and has another sip of their drink. Inside, Sam is thinking "Wow, teaching a two year old to bake seems frightening and dangerous", but keeps it to themselves.

Now, how are these going to go over to you? Jaime's answer is not going to go over well, most of the time. We all have a friend like this - the one that tells us in slightly condescending tones that we really should hold our child's hand crossing the street, yes at eight it's still important, and do we really want them to catch a cold without their coats? (Heck, for most of us it's our mother in law, right?) That friend obviously has something else going for them, because this is definitely not a positive trait. You asked a simple question - how can I do this - and all you get is "don't." Who wants that?

Alex answers your question, and adds in advice at the end about what Alex thinks is risky. Taryn tells you they think it's dangerous, but asks if it's okay to talk about it - and is cool if you say no, I've got that part covered. Sam keeps it to themselves, which of course is also cool - "if you can't say something nice, say nothing at all," right? Just replace "helpful" with "nice."

That's the big problem here: we all parent differently, and we all have different beliefs and agendas and interests and goals. And a lot of our askers come to us with very general questions, and it's totally okay to tell them what you think, then - you're answering the question then. "My kid is [x], please help!" is an invitation to give all of that information and tell them exactly what you think - and you're being welcoming and helpful.

But the askers who come to us with, "I want to [do this]. How can I?" are not welcomed when you tell them "don't do that". They're told either that you know better than they do - maybe you do, who knows, but maybe you're telling a pediatric nurse that she shouldn't do something that she absolutely knows is the right thing to do, she just wants feedback on technique, right? Or a Montessori parent is asking how to teach their child something that isn't normal at that age - heck, half of what my kids did at 4 or 5 scared the living daylights out of people we knew, and still does, but it's what we believe is right.

This is compounded by the fact that this, like all internet communities, tends towards an echo chamber over time. Those who get upvoted are those who agree with the majority of this community, and those who don't aren't upvoted. That is a self reinforcing mechanism - people who agree with the community and get upvoted, stay, and those who have diverging views leave. We can't help that, not really, except by making a special effort to be welcoming, to upvote good questions and answers even if we don't 100% agree but think they're helpful, and by not arguing with people. They want to do something - be Alex or Taryn or Sam, and they feel welcomed. Be Jaime, and they just think "Great, that was a waste of time" and leave.

And quite frankly - even if they're asking how to do something dangerous, *still don't write an answer saying not to". Ask in comments if they welcome information about how dangerous it is, absolutely; say how to do it with the caveats of how dangerous it is clearly labeled; or just stay out of it. This is the internet, and there's absolutely no obligation on your part, or anyone else's, to make people not do stupid things - guess what, people will always do stupid things, that's their prerogative as a human being. It's okay to let them be. If someone answers, feel free to mention that they should include warning text about any dangers, but if they don't want to still their prerogative - it's all good. There are plenty of other questions to answer!

the XKCD you knew was coming

In conclusion - be Alex, or Taryn, or Sam. Be welcoming to people, first and foremost. Help our community be inclusive and welcoming, and it will grow.

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  • 4
    I strongly object to the idea that frame challenges should inherently make the asker feel unwelcome. There are ways to make the asker feel unwelcome with frame challenges and without. Make rules about that (haven't we already?)
    – dxh
    Jun 25 '20 at 11:53
-3

No. We do not challenge the premise of a question here - most of the time.

Why?

Parenting is a full-time, real-time, lifetime job. While some other sites encourage or tolerate frame-challenge answers, the subject of parenting is entirely too sensitive for such answers. The nine-year-old boy that is having a certain issue at school is a real, living nine-year-old boy. The parent who is asking for advice on the issue is a real, living, breathing parent who needs our help.

Frame challenge answers increase the content real parents need to wade through to get sound advice. On top of having to find quality answers, with a frame challenge answer, they now are required to defend their position - on the internet - which if the history of open forums everywhere is precedent, it never goes well.

Two extremes are going to potentially be the outcome in the life of a frame-challenge answer. Either the asking and answering party will get into a heated debate in the comment section (which isn't allowed either) and somebody is going to inevitably violate the Be Nice/Code of Conduct policy OR the question asker is going to delete their question, abandon their account, and never visit our site again. Both of these outcomes are clearly undesirable.

I do concede that constructive frame-challenge answers will exist. They probably exist currently on the site in sweet harmony with the rest of the content. They probably exist because they were stated politely, not overly controversial and dismissive, and helpful to the question asker. The frame-challenge answers being addressed are those answers that deviate from that.

So what can I do?

All StackExchange sites are community moderated and community driven. We are given tools to manage and contain bad content and uplift and promote good content. If a question asker is violating the code of conduct, admitting to something criminal, not asking something on topic for the site, or spreading misinformation with their question, flag it for moderator attention and use your powers as a user to vote to close the question.

If the question is poorly written, edit it.

If you just disagree with the general approach the asker is taking about a situation because you were not raised that way, you don't think it will be helpful, or it violates your personal moral code, you have the option to downvote or walk away.

Based on some feedback, specifically from user DXH, there is one more option. Ask in the comments. If you really have a constructive answer that dismisses the premise of the question for a better course of action for the parent, ask in the comments first.

Hey @OP, may I post an answer that challenges the premise of the question? We call those types of answers "frame-challenge answers" here and I was just wondering if you are OK with that?

If they respond positively to that, then go for it. However, if they respond negatively or don't respond at all, don't post it.

What not to do?

Do not get into a heated debate in the comment section. Do not post a frame challenge answers that goes against the premise of the question. We do not do that here unless specifically allowed by the asker.

What if I see a frame challenge answer?

If you see an answer that is a frame challenge, flag it for moderator attention unless the it has been verified the asker is OK with these types of answers.

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  • 5
    This response fails to even imagine a frame challenge that might be helpful, and as such, only covers a very small portion of the debate. The "what can I do" section only has suggestions for very niche examples of where a frame challenge might be considered, and doesn't offer any suggestion on the probably most common scenario that the responder has a conceivable helpful response that is outside of the framing of the question, rendering it useless.
    – dxh
    Jun 23 '20 at 22:25
  • 4
    Also, this response departs from what I understand have been prior best practice of asking in comments whether OP is open to frame challenges. If that door too is closed, we really will miss out on a large bulk of useful answers, to the obvious detriment of the OP. Whether we are for or against frame challenges, I think this answer makes a weak case against it. I'd much rather just accept the question linked in this question as canonical, than adapting this as the new norm.
    – dxh
    Jun 23 '20 at 22:29
  • 2
    I think SomeShinyObject is making a distinction here. It's okay to ask clarifications - including about question scope - but it's not okay to argue with someone, "Are you okay with an answer about why not to" is okay - it's a clarification, it's polite, it's welcoming. Especially if when they say "No, thanks" you then walk away. But if you put the reason it's not okay in the comments, and then stay and keep going at it after they said no - that's arguing, and what SomeShinyObject is saying not to do.
    – Joe
    Jun 24 '20 at 17:09
  • @Joe: sure. I was responding to an earlier version of this response that didn't make that distinction.
    – dxh
    Jun 25 '20 at 13:33
  • 3
    I find the idea deeply disturbing to have to ask OP for permission for a type of answer. One central idea of all StackExchange sites is that answers are not only for OP, but for all other readers, too. If I feel an answer provides a valuable perspective, I should be able to post it, even if OP disagrees with my solution. They are after all free to ignore it: This of course assumes the answer is respectful and well-argued.
    – sleske
    Oct 2 '20 at 21:25

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