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Following our last community self-evaluation, we came together as a community to figure out what we're doing right and where we could do better when it comes to promoting Parenting Stack Exchange. The consensus on what's going right was rather unanimous, as expected:

  • There is a thriving community behind this site. When people arrive to ask questions about parenting issues that fall within our realm of expertise, they get great answers in a reasonable amount of time.

  • Parenting Stack Exchange is chocked full of very high quality contributions that are well maintained and manicured over time.

  • Community self-moderation is working exceptionally well in this community. Simply reading through a few random questions is enough to realize that the people participating here are very friendly and helpful.

In short, everyone involved is doing exactly what they're supposed to be doing in order for this site to succeed, and doing an excellent job of working with a very broad topic on on an extremely strict platform. You've shown that Parenting can work on the Stack Exchange engine, we just need more people to find it along with the intrinsic value of the high signal to noise Q&A engine that powers it.

What we need are evangelists. Not just experts, but evangelists. I'd like to open a discussion to see if we can identify the following things:

  1. Who are the evangelists that would find enough value in what we're doing in order to promote us freely? These are probably not going to be people with Wikipedia pages, but could be. Mostly, we're looking for dedicated, forward thinking moms and dads followed by many who are likely to appreciate what we have to offer.

  2. How do we attract these people? Is there something we could be showing them that we're not yet doing? Are there places we should be looking that we haven't, or perhaps places where we should be going out of our way to attract attention to the site? Note that contacting someone that you don't know rather well with 'hey, please go look at this' isn't really effective, and is usually considered annoying. If you want to attract an effective evangelist, they'll need to notice your awesomeness.

  3. Do you know such a person well enough to get in touch with them and show them what we're doing?

Please answer with one idea / person at a time, multiple answers are fine. Within your answer simply describe who, what or where, and any possible caveats involved in the idea. At the end of the discussion, we'll take the ideas the community likes the most and get to work on a solid plan.

Wait, did I forget someone? Are you the kind of evangelist that we're looking for? Is there something holding you back? Could we be doing something differently? Please consider leaving an answer to let us know!

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  • Many programmers are also parents. Right now there are three slots on the right side of the main page of Stack Overflow: one showing the Community Bulletin and two dedicated to Careers. Why not dedicate one of them to promote beta sites like this one? Nice and attractive logo with proper text will surely attract people here and who knows, maybe some will stick. Is there sense in any of this? – Shadow Wizard is Ear For You Jun 26 '13 at 8:23
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A couple of thoughts:

First, WonkoTheSane's post unfortunately devolved into a discussion of one particular question. I have posted three others previously and I could easily come up with more. When the answers we offer to a particular question all contain "in my opinion" or "in my experience," we are providing advice or a suggestion, not really expertise. Anecdote is fine when the asker is looking for strategies to try, but there is actual research available out there about the consequences of letting children win, the consequences of watching TV at meals, and what toileting behaviors are considered within the range of normal. This question had 5 people weigh in with their anecdotes before I posted with any research. In this particular case I have real concerns about the child in question; it appears the asker never came back to check answers after receiving the first one or two. So my first thought is that I concur with Wonko that the level of expertise in our answers makes me uncomfortable in evangelizing at this point.

Second, to find evangelists, you might consider:

  • An evangelist really believes in what you are doing. And for someone to really believe in what we are doing, he or she has to be an active participant. So what we are asking for is how we might attract people to the site as active members, who then might bring followers along.
  • We might attract potential evangelists by identifying target groups like meetups, day care centers, mother's day out programs, and parenting bloggers and inviting them to lend their expertise to this community. Let them know we need their expertise (we do!), and let them come and explore. If they like it, they'll stay; if they believe in it, they will share.
  • To attract additional experts/evangelists, we have to clearly offer something that people can't get elsewhere. We are competing with other parenting forums, with popular blogs, with ehow and ask.com, with a plethora of parenting magazines and books, and with experts in people's physical communities (doctors' offices, libraries, schools, fellow parents, families, etc). If we can identify ways that we are better than those resources, we might attract people to the cause.
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  • If you don't object, I'd like to use your last bullet point as a starting point for a new meta discussion: what do we offer that people can't get elsewhere? Closely related to that discussion might be "what can we offer that we don't already, that might help us distinguish us from the competition?" – user420 Jun 17 '13 at 17:21
  • That would be great! – MJ6 Jun 17 '13 at 17:59
  • Hey, I voted this up and think it is a fair assessment we can work on over-all, at the same time, in the end your answer - to go see a professional - IS the one that has the top number of votes and that says something too. I find the quality here to be better than other locations where parents can ask a question and then expect a slew of comments with no moderation, expertise or links at all. – balanced mama Jan 2 '14 at 23:15
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    @balanced mama I think the quality of answers has definitely improved in the last 6 months, but I am not sure there are enough active members to sustain this. – MJ6 Jan 3 '14 at 19:04
  • Well, there are a few more active members now than there were six months ago - I think?!? It sure seems like it anyway. – balanced mama Jan 4 '14 at 2:22
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I put forward this suggestion elsewhere, but the Penny Arcade guys reach a large audience of young parents and touch on the theme of parenting fairly often.

As a stepdad, Wil Wheaton discusses family on his blog all the time.

They have a strong following of diverse and (generally) sensible people, a lot of whom are great contributors to online communities.

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  • I follow both Penny Arcade and Wil Wheaton. Honestly, I didn't realize that he was a step-dad. He's clearly committed to the idea of parenthood to the level where the "step" prefix seems inappropriate. – user420 Jun 14 '13 at 12:07
  • It comes up every so often (I think I first read it in "Just A Geek"). I think he's adopted both his kids now, once they were old enough to make the decision themselves. – deworde Jun 14 '13 at 13:40
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    Both excellent suggestions. I follow Will in general, but I didn't know this about him - wow. And I mean right there, on his blog ... 50,000 Monkeys at 50,000 Typewriters Can't Be Wrong - I guess I'm elected to see if he's interested? (see my gravatar that I've had for years if you haven't yet) – Tim Post Jun 16 '13 at 14:32
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Even professionals argue over what is best for kids in certain areas and many studies can be conflicting to various degrees. This creates a problem for any parenting site of this nature and I think SE tends to be far better and have answers of a far higher quality than other sites I have visited.

The unfortunate thing about the format of the site is that answers that are not the best answers or babsed on the most current advice or studies can be upvoted and show up at the top of a queue instead of answers that really are of a better quality. Once in awhile a great point can be made but it might be couched within horrid or judgeemntal assumptions that are off-putting, or bad advice can be given within the context of a perfectly professional sounding answer.

Here is an example of an answer that has a generally great message (Preschool isn't all its cracked up to be and no one should feel bad about not sending their child to preschool) that is unfortunately couched with an absolute that makes it sound as if the idea - (preschools are simply in it for the money only and anyone that sends their child there is just trying to assuage guilt for not being at home) is equally valid. It is unfortunate, but true, that this "absolutism" is off-putting to some (namely myself and at least Meg Coates who chimes in in the comments with that critique).

There was even this question in which I was basically asking, is there something I'm missing about the importance of handwriting or am I putting too much importance on typing too soon and I got quite a monitor full from a particular user that has some very specific ideas about the harm of touch-typing (that are contrary to studies I've read), but the user was obviously emotive in his responses and just couldn't let it go (nor would he continue the conversation in chat instead of in comments as he was asked to do multiple times)

My first experience on this site put me at odds with a site member that was vehementally against Homeschooling (having adopted the myth that kids garner socialization skills while at school and that is the only place to obtain them), and no matter what I cited (which, unfortunately, most of my reading has been from books and not sources available online), no matter what I did it was not satisfactory and I was critiqued. The commenter was voicing a number of popular myths that are out there that many people believe fervently despite studies to the contrary and some of his comments had gotten comment "upvotes" which made me feel very "alone" in the matter. The whole occurance was extremely off-putting and I almost left the site never to return. The unfortunate thing is that with our kids, so many things can become emotional like that very quickly and there are a lot of "old fashioned" but still popularly accepted ideas out there as well.

Any user that writes in absolutes, is likely to be off-putting to at least a group of parents - minority or not. I believe the occurance of these "absolutist" kinds of answers is reduced in the more recent answers (or maybe I just happened upon a lot of it right at the beginning of my involvement here) but, it is the existence of these types of answers and comments that gives me pause about recommending any online parenting site as a blanket place to go get good advice. I have, however, linked or shared specific questions and their answers, and do talk about SE and some of its more recent content with other parents and feel more comfortable recommending the site in this way than I would any other similar site I have been on.

The great thing about SE is that usually these emotive absolutes (as well as inaccurate answers) are not voted to the top, flagged and removed when particularly egregious or otherwise commented on and negated in some fashion or another. I've also seen less of that recently than what I did when I first started visiting the site. Still, if we can continue to be diligent about removing or editing this kind of content, I think it will give a more professional/ more welcoming face to new visitors and old that might choose to, or not to recommend the site if we can continue to whittle away at this type of content. At the same time, we can't overly edit to where we lose part of the poster's message either so some caution is required, and we will never be rid of all such content. I am glad it is rarely found in top answers.

I think it would help somewhat if there was a clearer way to distinguish actual experts/professionals from people who have experience as parents only (they are still experts just of a different kind), but since it is an online and somewhat anonymous presence that is probably impossible. Overall, the issue is usually addressed fairly quickly and still better than what happens at most sites.

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I work with hundreds of kids and families, but I cannot send those families here because, quite frankly, the answers are often inaccurate and/or dangerous.

You want to attract people who can send you families, ensure that they won't be burned by their families seeing content which can harm their children. Most of us who work with families are extremely protective of our kids and highly unlikely to expose them to the possibility of advice which could harm them.

EDIT (reference as requested): What should I be teaching my two year old?

Top answer, marked as answer. Lists several developmentally inappropriate skills for a 24 month old.

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    Would you care to expound upon this? Give some examples of answers you have found that were inaccurate/dangerous. I have found this very rarely, and when answers do seem to smack of inaccuracy, members of the community are quick to jump on the discussion to correct it. – Meg Coates Jun 13 '13 at 2:14
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    -1 Claims need to be supported with references. You need to show which answers are "dangerous". – Aquarius_Girl Jun 13 '13 at 8:38
  • I edited the post and added a reference to an answer voted up to top as well as marked as answer which lists several skills to teach a 24 month old which are developmentally inappropriate. – WonkoTheSane Jun 13 '13 at 11:29
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    Which of those skills do you feel were developmentally inappropriate? Most of the ones in that top answer are ones our pediatrician asked about at the 24 month checkup, and my 2 year old son does all but coloring within the lines. – user420 Jun 13 '13 at 14:10
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    Specifically, please expand upon what advice you believe is actively harmful (harmful vs inappropriate is a major and important distinction). – user420 Jun 13 '13 at 14:14
  • Expecting developmentally inappropriate skills from a child is harmful because it increases demands beyond capacities. Categorizing different colors, numeracy concepts of "how many", coloring within the lines, and shape discrimination are all skills closer to 36 month level than the 24 month level. Either way I've responded to the question asked with my answer, you can vote me down all you want but the answer remains true. I don't see a need to respond further, I don't think it would be productive. – WonkoTheSane Jun 13 '13 at 15:25
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    I think there's a gross distinction between an answer you find inappropriate and something that's "dangerous". I would hardly term the answer to the question you linked to as "dangerous". FWIW, there is nothing listed in that answer that couldn't fall into the CDC guidelines child development for a 24-month-old. Just because YOU think they're developmentally inappropriate doesn't mean that they are, in fact, developmentally inappropriate. Though I would agree that asking a 24 month old to color inside the lines is asking a bit much. – Meg Coates Jun 13 '13 at 17:14
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    Downvotes in meta simply indicate disagreement. In this case, I disagree because you make broad claims of widespread "dangerous", advice, yet your sole example not only seems accurate, but is also backed by several expert (read: professional child care specialists) users. – user420 Jun 13 '13 at 19:03
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    My daughter has been in a Montessori school since prep (or what they call 'casa'), now in second grade. While I found it to be accelerated compared with the K-12 I knew, I didn't find any of the activities or lessons to be age inappropriate. However, thank you for your candid feedback - all insights are extremely important in the scope of tuning our promotional efforts. – Tim Post Jun 14 '13 at 4:28
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    I think this does show something that is an issue within the site. Parenting is such an emotive topic that fairly minor disagreements about development levels get promoted to "dangerous". I know we occasionally lose users because they either feel like their views aren't being represented or are in the minority. Which is inevitable, but Wonko's a clear case of this. – deworde Jun 14 '13 at 9:53
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    @WonkoTheSane I think part of the confusion is that you seem to be saying that expecting a 2-year-old to be able to do all of the things outlined in that answer (the first list of 7) puts harmful pressure on the child. However, the answer doesn't seem to be saying "you should expect a 2-year-old to do these things". The question is about what skills should a parent work on between 24 and 36 months, and not what skills should a child already have at 24 months. Note that the answer takes from Montessori school "expectations", and my understanding is that 24 months is too young for them. – user420 Jun 14 '13 at 15:05
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    Setting that aside, you have talked here and other places about "reasonable curation". Do you have any suggestions as to how that might work? Your answer seems to be focused on why you think we won't be attracting the target audience. While that's certainly helpful feedback, some suggestions as to the direction you feel we should be going in would be very much appreciated. – user420 Jun 14 '13 at 19:41
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    I guess we just have different definitions of "teaching" then. I don't teach anything predicated on "okay, show me you know how to do this". The example of neuronanatomy for a sixth grader is a straw horse. At least some of the skills listed in the answer are clearly ones some 24 month olds can do (the op specified her child already could do some). I think we're dealing with such fundamental differences in definitions and perspectives we'll just have to agree to disagree. – user420 Jun 15 '13 at 13:34
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    Your interpretation of both the context and content of the discussion seems so very far from mine. You seem intent on defining education as something that occurs at a single point of time, while I see it as a process that occurs over a span of time. You also seem to be saying that all advice is only "safe" if it addresses the most basic milestones (i.e. advice for what a 2 year old should be learning should only include skills all 2 year old should have already mastered). If you'd like to discuss this further, we can take it to chat, but we need to take this out of comments. – user420 Jun 15 '13 at 18:28
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    I think a key issue has been identified here - folks may be somewhat reluctant to send folks here with a sort of "Well, some of the answers there are good, but look out for the dangerous ones" envelope. I think all involved see the expectation that one would apply their own discretion, common sense and wisdom when evaluating responses they see here, but when it comes to kids people tend to be exceptionally careful. This is definitely one to think about, though I'm not sure what we can do. I do think we do a far better job of vetting and reviewing than similar sites however. – Tim Post Jun 16 '13 at 14:48

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