I realize that parenting is a very emotional subject for many here, but I'm seeing a concerning amount of:

  • People responding to "How do I implement $parenting-strategy?" with answers that aren't really answers, but lectures about how some strategy other than the one asked about is the One Right Way (that fail the "has enough concrete evidence to be held as universal fact" test).

  • People asking questions that aren't even stated as questions, in order to lecture on some topic.

Almost as worrying (to me) are feel-good answers with no real content. When someone asks about what strategies they can use to accomplish X, the right answer isn't "don't worry, it sounds like you really love your kid" (regardless of what the right strategy is).

It's not unmanageable at this point -- soapboxing and its inverse, the empty answer, are very minor issues currently -- but if it continues through the private beta, I'm concerned that it will become a much bigger problem as we grow. How can we nip it in the bud, and help our early users (many of whom seem new to Stack) grok the importance in embracing the format?

  • 3
    I don't have an answer, but I think this is going to be a key question we have to figure out. SE isn't a parenting social site, there's plenty of those out there running vBull or super-board or any of a dozen other similar platforms. It's a Q&A site, we as the user community need respect that difference or it loses some of it's value.
    – cabbey
    Apr 1, 2011 at 5:50
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    The question makes some sense, but the you should also be aware that what you consider "soapboxing" is as much a function of your viewpoint as of the actual comment or answer.
    – tomjedrz
    Aug 17, 2011 at 0:18
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    @tomjedrz I disagree -- plenty of people espouse opinions I disagree with, but don't soap-box. I think I explained in very concrete terms the behaviors I categorize as soap-boxing. Feel free to ping me in Parenting Chat if you want to discuss it.
    – HedgeMage
    Aug 17, 2011 at 2:46
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    While I agree that lecturing is not to be encouraged, sometimes it is necessary to state that there is no suitable answer. For instance, if somebody asked "My child keeps banging their head when they run under our table. Whats the best treatment for a sore head?" then providing a list of suitable painkillers may be an answer, but by far the better answer would be "Don't let them run under the table." Mar 6, 2013 at 11:42

4 Answers 4


This is a good observation. I always try to answer the specific question with a specific "solution", but sometimes my answers aren't good.

I think the method to deal with both issues is the same: Downvote and explain why. This will surely cause some controversy but it's how Stack Exchange works! Good answers go on top, poor answers sink down.

I think that leaving a comment on poor answers is essential, and much more important than the "+1 me too" comments. Downvote comments help the author understand why it was felt to be a poor answer, and they also help other readers judge the answer, and help shape their answers in turn.

Sometimes I downvote and explain in my comment that I will turn the downvote into an upvote when the post has been edited. It's hard to do so consistently, and requires me to deliberately keep the post in mind, but it's surely the fairest way.

  • +1 for proofing HedgeMage point :D. Using boldface throughout your answers is lecturing.
    – user35
    Mar 31, 2011 at 12:48
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    @Andra, that's a matter of opinion too. I often use highlighting to make it easier for readers to skim the text for the essential bits. Formatting is there for a reason. Maybe we should open a meta discussion on when what kind of formatting is appropriate? Mar 31, 2011 at 13:05
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    ... and someone downvoted this answer without saying why. How can I learn to write better answers if I don't hear the reason for the downvote? Another point to prove my answer :-) Mar 31, 2011 at 13:07
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    Using markup to highlight and format your answer is "lecturing"?! Seriously? wow.
    – cabbey
    Apr 1, 2011 at 5:45
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    It seems to me like Andra's comment was the downvote reason. I wasn't the downvote, but I personally prefer lists or headings to make skimming easier. Unless it's in a textbook, a lot of people (myself included) don't consider boldface as mere highlighting, but as a cue to read it louder in their heads. That can come across as a lecturing tone if you're not judicious, but it didn't seem an inappropriate level to me in this context. Italics are usually read in a higher pitch or a slower rate, but not as loud as bold. May 14, 2011 at 17:37
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    Definitely agreed on the downvote with explanation, although I don't always combine the two immediately. Sometimes I just comment to give a chance for revision before downvoting, and sometimes I piggy back off someone else's comment for the reason. May 14, 2011 at 17:42
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    One problem is that soapboxing is often done in comments, where you can't downvote. I really want the right to delete comments on my questions and their answers. Jun 15, 2011 at 13:26
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    @Lennart, you're encouraged to flag anything that's wrong. It's how the system works. Jun 15, 2011 at 13:44
  • @TorbenGB: Well, we then need a decision that it is wrong. Maybe even a flag option. Jun 15, 2011 at 14:26
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    @Lennart, let the mods decide that. They review all flags and only take action if they find the flag to be valid. Jun 15, 2011 at 15:19
  • @TorbenGB: So far it has been decided that it isn't wrong, apparently. Jun 15, 2011 at 17:29
  • Let's talk in the chat about any individual issues. Jun 15, 2011 at 19:51

I was just doing a personal survey on this problem today and I think may be is a bigger issue on Parenting than on any other SE site I've explored so far. I do think it could kill the site, making it insufficiently different from any other online forum. There will be some people who are just disrespectful preachy jerks, but I suspect that most people would actually try to make their replies better quality if they were just reminded of the principles more often. Many people probably read the FAQ once, and then forget where they are. Plus it improves the world generally if we can train people what good and bad answers are.

It's too laborious for questioners to have to "defend" their question and to lecture respondents about the difference between an answer and an ever-widening discussion or an (unwelcome) refutation of the premise that the question is based on. If a new user of the site has their factual question just sucked into a tiresome debate, they'll probably never return again. The same is true if they feel their intelligence is being disrespected by people making tiresomely obvious critiques of their question (like, "the brand of diaper you use will not ruin your child's life... life is more complex than that, so don't worry about it!") When I respond with an answer that is weak or possibly too obvious, I at least try to confess that I've done so, so the questioner does not think I'm disrespecting their question or their intelligence.

A questioner is under some pressure to be a gracious host (not wanting to scare away additional answers) and so may not feel able to scold a respondent who didn't really ever get around to answer the question, but who at least made a well-intended effort and (finally.. what a relief!) didn't drag the question into the weeds or provoke an argument. Therefore it will be critical for the Community at large to diligently point out non-answers wherever they occur, and not leave it to the overwhelmed questioner.

Some technical features might help:

-- More automated FAQ mini-reminders that actually block the user until they read it. E.g. I've noticed there is now a pop-up when you start to type an answer (reminding you of good practice) which is excellent... but it's too subtle and easy to proceed without actually reading it. Also the popup is only seen by people trying to post answers... unfortunately many people who have the impulse to argue or preach like to do it in the comments, where there is no such reminder. Reminders might bring users to a full stop when they first have enough rep. points for some privilege... and could become less obstructive as more points are earned.

-- A handy list or palette of "deep links" to specific items in the FAQ (including SE Meta Community FAQ), so people can quickly link to a reminder of proper behavior without having to explain it from scratch.

-- Perhaps Wikipedia-like 'templates' could be used to easily flag specific common problems with a question and automatically link to a FAQ, giving the poster a brief opportunity to fix it themselves before being downvoted or scolded more thoroughly.

e.g. for Answers: {{fails to answer the question}} {{misreads the question}} {{opinion doesn't cite source or personal experience}} {{needs reformat to lead with answer}} {{unjustifiably assumes the asker is simpleminded}} {{preachy}} ...etc... (though these long names may be too cumbersome)

for Questions: {{question unclear}} {{question too broad}} {{question too narrow for anyone else to care about}} {{controversial topic please respond carefully}} ...etc.

for Comments: {{should be an answer}} {{should be a separate question}} {{unjustifiably assumes the asker didn't intend to ask precisely what they asked}} {{inappropriately provocative}} {{playing the censorship martyr card}} ...etc.

Maybe someone could work out a list of common faults that templated responses might work for. Any user could add templates as comments, and moderators could edit-add them inline.

The final result may be the same: moderators sweep it all up afterward. But this could save a lot of tedious explaining when people commit common offences. And the fact that something is a template helps to point out to people just how tiresomely Common a fault is.

  • Re: A questioner is under some pressure to be a gracious host - I don't think the Adler needs to feel any such pressure, or feel overwhelmed. The community will vote and flag ad needed, so the asker's voice is but one of many. In case of doubt, an asker (or any user) can just flag questionable posts and let the moderators assist. Aug 18, 2011 at 6:10
  • @Torben -- well, what I meant was not the pressure of editorial responsibility, but that an asker is basically a humble supplicant, asking a question they truly want help with, hoping that people will be kind enough to try. And if the asker is perceived as ungrateful, they may not get any more answers, so they're under pressure to come off as nice and grateful of even some pretty useless first attempts. (I know that I won't bother to submit answers when the asker seems to to be sniping at everyone.) So it really helps if people other than the originator take on the job of "bad cop".
    – Kilo
    Apr 25, 2012 at 5:58

The real answer is .. DON'T TRY.

As I noted in a comment, "soapboxing" is in the eye of the beholder. Everytime someone mentions corporal punishment, the "no violence" crowd jumps in. IMHO, they are on the soapbox rather than trying to help. In their opinion, they are offering valuable counterweight. Trying to fight it is huge problem.

Does the "answer" actually attempt to answer the question. If it doesn't, down-vote.

Does the "comment" relate to the question/answer in some way? If not, flag it.

This strategy works quite well on the established SE sites.

  • The checklist you provide makes good sense. The policy on voting matches that. Aug 17, 2011 at 5:48
  • Yep. It works. I have been on StackOverflow and ServerFault since they opened, and am a top 3% user on SF. I understand the process, and have seen all of these issues before. The "soapboxing" on SF around Windows/Linux is far worse than anything on Parenting, but no one gets unhinged and the good questions and answers rise to the top.
    – tomjedrz
    Aug 17, 2011 at 22:46
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    @tomjedrz You are right about how it works on Stack Overflow and Server Fault: the trilogy sites have large communities of active users who grok the format. When this question was originally posted, Parenting was in private beta with just over a dozen active users, over half of whom were completely new to the stack format. Small groups of 2-4 ideologues were easily able to overwhelm useful content because almost no voting happened. You can consider this question historical: as our user base matured and grew, it ceased to be a problem.
    – HedgeMage
    Aug 19, 2011 at 14:05

Upvote when you agree an answer is right with respect to the question, and downvote when you think an answer is wrong, again with respect to the question. As long as everyone on the site does this (and I'm pretty sure they do), soapboxers should be buried relatively quickly.

Unless the site is majority soapboxers.

At that point, you should send an email to Mr Atwood, subject line "Remove the soapboxers", body "Please Mr Atwood remove the soapboxers kthx", and continue upvoting and downvoting in a calmly fastidious manner.

  • 1
    Soapboxing most often occurs on topics over which there is either controversy, or a strong division of opinions. This means that your suggestion would result in answers that do not address the question being upvoted by everyone who agrees that their way is "better". Answers should be voted on due to their relevance to the question, not out of some sort of popularity contest.
    – user420
    Jan 5, 2012 at 20:23
  • I fixed the statement to include "with respect to the question". Part of the point is a discussion based website's content depends on its users, and if the site does at any one point become overwhelmed by a ton of people from one particular group with one particular lean, there is no way you can stop "soapbox" answers from overrunning the site.
    – bobobobo
    Jan 5, 2012 at 23:02

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