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We have a question that recently hit the "Hot Network Questions" list for the Stack Exchange platform.

If you're not familiar with this list, it is displayed on the right side of the screen, and highlights popular questions across different SE sites. It has, in general, been very kind to us when we wind up with a question appearing on it; we almost always notice that we've been featured after an unusual increase in activity and new visitors draws our attention to it.

However, in this particular case, the answer that seems to have attracted the "buzz" seemingly is in violation of one of our policies.

In particular, the question is: "what [is] the healthiest, smartest, most sensical means of teaching him to either not raise the toilet seat or to at least return it to closed?".

The hot answer is essentially "Just teach your kids to make sure the seat is where they need it to be so that they can do what they need to do, and leave it at that."

This is, essentially, disagreeing with the premise: "How do I teach him to put down the seat?" and "Don't, that's the wrong thing to teach".

The important quote from the top-voted meta answer:

Most importantly, it is never appropriate to post an answer that does not directly answer the question asked.

This answer also touches upon a related meta discussion: How to combat soapboxing?. The answer is seems to be soapboxing to me: "Am I the only person who thinks that it's entirely trivial for the next person to use the toilet to correct the seat position for their needs?"

The suggested action for this is "Downvote and explain why".

Yet in this case, the answer is receiving a tremendous amount of upvotes. Presumably many of those upvotes are from people not familiar with our community. As I mentioned in the comments:

Honestly, I think we're seeing a bunch of guys who just are tired of being reminded to put down the seat when they're done.

Maybe this is a harsh or unfair assessment, but I really question how many of the votes the answer is receiving are due to people with parenting expertise honestly feeling that that is a good strategy to take as a parent.

So what, if anything, should be done here?

I'm going to downvote the answer. Is that sufficient, or does the community feel that stronger action is needed?

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  • This is tough for me. On the one hand, I think it's an inappropriate answer, and downvoted and explained why. It's not addressing the question (How do I...), but answering (Should I...) instead. On the other hand, it is an answer, and is intended to address the question; I've certainly given programming answers on [StackOverflow] that are similar ("What you're asking to do is a bad idea.") Perhaps more appropriate in programming (where program design is an important element of programming), but still... – Joe May 1 '14 at 20:13
  • I think that it does "attempt" to answer the question - but in a way that isn't exactly helpful. The big problem is that I think having such a highly upvoted answer on top that doesn't answer the question is harmful. – Joe May 1 '14 at 20:14
  • @Joe The major issue is that, while it may offhandedly intend to answer the question, the primary function of the answer seems to be to push a personal agenda of the answerer. – Waterseas May 1 '14 at 20:16
  • Agreed. That's not exactly against the rules, though; it's a very grey area, which I think is reflected in the varying solutions to similar questions asked on the subject on various metas. Even in the two posts on Parenting Meta linked above, they have two totally different end results. – Joe May 1 '14 at 20:18
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    @Joe That grey area is exactly what I'm seeking to clarify with this question. That may be difficult to achieve, though.... – user420 May 1 '14 at 20:19
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    I think the answer should stay, despite the issues being pointed out. In the end, if the OP decides a different answer is 'better' (which they may not, btw. Maybe the given answer is eye-opening and changes the OP's mind of how to approach the situation), they'll mark a different answer as correct. Once they do so, the marked answer will jump to the top regardless of votes. – Doc May 1 '14 at 20:35
  • I think I agree with @Doc. In theory the downvotes from the community should overwhelm the upvotes, even if no answer is chosen. However, I do understand the question of what happens with questions like this that are clearly primarily not voted on by the community (but are only getting so many votes due to being a hot question), and if I am on one side of delete/not delete, it's only by a tiny bit. – Joe May 1 '14 at 21:53
  • @Doc please post that as an answer so people can vote on your proposal – user420 May 2 '14 at 0:07
  • We should all look at the upside to this question. At least the Parenting.SE community is finally getting some much needed attention. – SomeShinyObject May 2 '14 at 14:45
  • Am I correct in believing that an answer with an awarded bounty is automatically listed higher than any non-awarded non-selected-answer? Or do higher voted answers with no checkmark and no bounty go above bountied answers? – Joe May 2 '14 at 16:47
  • @Joe That... is an excellent question. I checked, and unfortunately, the answer appears to be "no". example. I don't know if it would be different if there were no accepted answer, but I suspect the result would be the same. – user420 May 2 '14 at 16:53
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    @ChristopherW Unfortunately, it's attention to do with a row about toilet seat etiquette. – deworde May 3 '14 at 12:14
  • @deworde, The optimist in me wants to say that we are often directed to the best things in life via unintentional discovery. We'll just shove that guy back deep down where he belongs though. – SomeShinyObject May 3 '14 at 13:49
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I feel that in the linked case (and similar cases) the answer should stay. Typically, voting will correctly adjust visibility of the answer up/down appropriately. The answerer was attempting to answer the question - they were trying to adjust the point of view to show that perhaps the parent was approaching the issue in the wrong way, which is a perfectly valid outlook even if it doesn't solve the question as asked. Evidence (votes) suggests that such an adjustment of viewpoint is a popular opinion on the topic, even if many voters aren't from our (honestly, fairly small) community of active users.

In the end, if the OP decides a different answer is 'better' (which, for all we know, they may not. Perhaps the given answer is eye-opening and does change the OP's mind of how to approach the situation), then they'll mark a different answer as correct. Once they do so, the marked answer will jump to the top regardless of votes. Future readers will see the selected answer first, but if they choose to continue reading they'll see the alternative viewpoint as is always the case.

All in all, the "Not an answer" flag should be used for "answers" that truly don't even attempt to answer the question - they either are spam, pose a question for the OP (should be a comment), or are completely unrelated to the topic at hand.

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    I think this is a network wide problem, caused by the hot questions feature. Not that I don't like it. What happens when a question gets flooded with views and say ~100 upvotes on a suboptimal answer, and then falls off the radar for a year, receiving less views in the rest of the year, than it did in it's 5 minutes of fame? (I'm grossly exaggerating, to make a point) – Dom May 2 '14 at 0:18
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    @user4877 Hopefully, the OP chooses the most appropriate answer. If they ask and run (it happens) then it happens and that's life. But as an individual, we don't choose the optimal answer, the community as a whole and the asker do. That's the point of the system as it is. It's not like you can't read other answers if you see the top voted one doesn't answer the question the way you as an individual want. – Doc May 2 '14 at 0:23
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In this particular case, I'm concerned that the title of the question is the problem. People see the hot question and see "Leaving the toilet seat up", and that immediately puts them in a particular frame of mind. The only question we could have on this site more likely to draw a similar response, frankly, would be "Abortion, yes or no".

I wonder if changing the title (perhaps in the future, as this question is probably hopeless) to a more parenting-appropriate title might be appropriate. "Teaching my child bathroom manners" or similar in this case would probably draw a lot less random drive by views, but wouldn't entirely be inappropriate (It's not a great title, but I can't think of anything else both appropriate and not likely to draw drive-by views primarily).

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  • While this doesn't really address the larger issue, I think this is an excellent suggestion. The question title would benefit from a reformat even if it hadn't made the hot-question list, received the answers it did, etc.. I'm going to edit it now. – user420 May 2 '14 at 14:10
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    Wish I'd thought of it yesterday :) Apparently a ... well, I have two under three, so never a good, but still ... a night's sleep helps. :) – Joe May 2 '14 at 14:11
  • 'How can I teach my young child to leave the toilet seat down when he's finished?' is far more focused and unambiguous. I believe the title change to this one is counter productive, as I've explained in my question about recent rejected edits, there are many meanings for 'bathroom manners' imo. – Dom May 5 '14 at 21:08
  • Sure, but on the other hand, it's far less likely to draw drive-by troll answers/votes, which the other title does - and it's more generic, which is actually better (the same answer can be applicable for other similar things). – Joe May 5 '14 at 21:18
  • The same answer isn't really applicable to other things. If I'm looking for a way to teach my son to wash his hands after every toilet trip, it's not going to have the same answer as teaching him to put the toilet seat down. Trolls are a part of internet culture now, and they have to be tolerated, but what you're essentially also saying is 'good, now we won't have so many unique viewers on the question', and that's just pointless. Down-vote answers if you don't agree with them, don't change the title (negatively) to avoid poor quality ones. – Dom May 5 '14 at 23:45
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I would say that this is EXACTLY why binding delete from moderators was created. As long as there is at least some form of consensus from several users whose opinion is respected that the answer does NOT answer the question, a mod can delete it.

Ordinarily, I would be the first one to scream "tyranny", so this clearly has to go through meta discussion first (NOT this question, but a specific "is that specific answer in need of being deleted").

Votes are irrelevant. As @Gilles likes to repeat, "popularity != quality". Stackoverflow got rid of all their programming-on-the-boat and such posts. Despite tremendous amount of upvotes.

In this case, as in many cases on SE (including Parenting), what people upvote is NOT the quality of the answer, but their agreement with the sentiment.

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My temptation is to do a fairly radical edit, that preserves the general sense of "this may not be something that's worth fighting over", but downplays the dismissiveness of "Well, this wouldn't bother me". But it's such a radical edit, I might as well have just deleted the question and resubmitted.

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    I don't ever agree with radical edits of answers. The answer is acceptable or it is not, on its own, and if it is not, deletion is the right answer. – Joe May 2 '14 at 13:51
  • Radical edits are contrary to SE rules on editing if they change the meaning of the post. – user3143 May 22 '14 at 16:12
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In what world is "Chill out and stop worrying about it!" not a correct answer to a parenting question?

Educating a child includes teaching him to pick his fights. If calling out parents who haven't learned that lesson isn't a correct answer on this site, I'm afraid I cannot give much credibility to any content on it.

ADHD is what they label every US kid who doesn't behave like a door mat.

As for the soapboxing thread you just linked to, it stroke me as lunatic. How can anyone suggest, on a topic as subjective as parenting of all things, that something should have "enough concrete evidence to be held as universal fact" to be a valid answer?

There is no One Right Way when it comes to parenting. There are things that work for some kids, others that work for other kids, and -- most importantly -- parents who teach colorful behaviors by example in spite of themselves: bullying, violence, machism, sexism, homophobia, racism, and a slew of others that the greater society wouldn't mind shaking off.

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    -1: Basically dismissing what could be a real diagnosis, dismissing the asker as "spiteful" and "controlling" when she comes to the site for help, this basically demonstrates the exact attitude that @Beofett seems concerned about. – deworde May 2 '14 at 8:51
  • @deworde: The thing this site should be concerned about is the implied mission statement expressed in this thread and the aforementioned one on soapboxing: that in the name of Truth, Helpfulness and Q&A Format, it is preferable to cheerlead and help parents in their misled behaviors instead of calling them out on them. – Denis de Bernardy May 2 '14 at 9:57
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    The purpose of this site is to help parents become better parents. If the only input someone can provide is to insult or belittle other people, not only are the people asking for help unlikely to listen (or return), it is unlikely that the advice being offered is all that good. – user420 May 2 '14 at 10:45
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    I've removed the unnecessary insults from your post. Insults such as you included are not welcome on parenting, or any other SE site. – user420 May 2 '14 at 10:49
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    @Denis There are better ways of suggesting "This fight may not be a key one to fight"; including asking "Why do you feel like you have to prevent this?", than going "Well she's just spiteful and controlling, this wouldn't bother me". If someone asked a question about bad practice on Programmers, and the response was "Deal with it, n00b, you just have to do dirty hacks all the time, it's good programming to ignore the return value in this instance, why are you complaining, this wouldn't bother me?", it'd be downvoted into obscurity. This is the equivalent. Even if it's true, it's unhelpful. – deworde May 2 '14 at 11:08
  • @deworde - It's merely analogous, with one big difference: On this particular SE, a poor child may very well be on the receiving end of an obsessive compulsive sociopath. – Denis de Bernardy May 2 '14 at 12:40
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    @Denis That's most certainly well beyond the scope of this site. One of the keys to giving good parenting advice is assuming that other parents have other methods of doing things, and those are okay. If they ask for advice on a particular thing, give it, but do not challenge other aspects they do not ask for advice on. You are not a social worker and you are not a psychiatrist (at least, of this parent); it is not your job to make such judgments. Every parent will have differences of opinion on how some things are done. Offer advice in this spirit, or not at all. – Joe May 2 '14 at 13:50
  • @Denis That's quite a leap to make based on the question though. – deworde May 2 '14 at 17:42
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    @Denis You're just another user that doesn't yet share the community spirit. One of the cornerstones of SE's success imo, is the friendliness and respect given to everyone without discrimination. You're not here to tell people 'this is how it is, you dumbasses', and we never asked you to come and do that. Give an answer when you have something constructive to say and never insult anyone, even if they've insulted you. – Dom May 2 '14 at 21:51
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I don't understand all the commotion about the answer. It answers the OP's question, just with redirection rather than a direct answer. If an OP came on to this site and asked how often they should spank their child, there would be a billion and 1 answers about how often they should not spank their child (as in never) with multiple other methods of disciplinary action to use instead[1]. This is the same exact concept. It's all over the Stack Exchange network

StackOverflow

In JavaScript, how should I name my global variables? Don't use global variables

Programmers

How can I use this ArrayList of HashTables to organize this data in Java? Don't do that! Make objects instead.

Database Administrators

How can I normalize this MyISAM MySQL database? Use InnoDB instead. It allows for foreign key constraints.

Seasoned Advice

How much honey should I mix in with this dish? Oh don't use honey, try this instead. It'll taste better.

The list goes on.

The only reason this question is different is because some people believe the answering individual has an "ax to grind". Well, maybe there is an ax to grind and maybe it needs to be ground. While I won't stand on my soapbox about the issue, the complete concept that men should be the sole keeper of the toilet seat position is ludicrous, dated, and quite frankly, an utmost absurd form of sexism.

This is the only reason this question combined with this answer is getting all of this attention.

All in all, you can't viably delete the answer or modify it without changing the individual's intent without some sort of backlash. And what would that serve? A bunch of disgruntled Parenting.SE patrons who feel that their questions about gender roles, even in parenting, even about something as simple as putting down a toilet seat, aren't being heard and their views being respected.

Leave it alone.

[1] - I don't advocate spanking; this is just an example.

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  • Actually, your example on spanking is exactly why I am concerned, and part of what prompted the discussions I linked. We did have questions on spanking that resulted in a ton of arguments, largely over answer saying "don't spank" when the OP wasn't asking if they should or should not. Similarly, we had questions on gun safety, where a bunch of angry answers were posted saying "don't teach your kids about guns". In both cases, a fair number of members left. Some were new, others had been steady contributors. – user420 May 2 '14 at 15:10
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    So, no, whether or not the answering individual has an "ax to grind" actually has nothing to do with why this should be addressed in some concerted fashion. I'm raising this because history has shown that issues like this can drive away more people than they attract. Yes, the question attracted a lot of new people. However, we've had this happen with other "hot network questions", and historically, the vast majority don't participate aside from that brief blip. We will likely get a handful of continuing users out of this... which is great, but only if we don't lose established users. – user420 May 2 '14 at 15:13
  • If people leave over a little controversy (on the internet mind you) about a toilet seat, I can't wait to see how their success in the real world will turn out. – SomeShinyObject May 2 '14 at 15:18
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    This isn't about one specific incident, but rather how we approach general policy. I agree the chances of people leaving over the toilet seat question aren't that great, but the popularity of the answer sets a precedent that the policies I linked above seek to avoid. The answer may very well be "let it be", but I wanted to open it to the community, and ensure that proper background is presented for people who want to participate (it is also why I am not, myself, proposing a solution). – user420 May 2 '14 at 15:24
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    In addition to what Beofett noted, I would also say that many of your examples are bad examples in some ways. The how can I do blah in mysql should be answered in mysql. Nothing wrong with a comment suggesting using InnoDB, but there's nothing more frustrating than having a good reason to use X (say, you have no choice) and being told "Use Y" rather than legitimately answering the question. If the answer is "Here's how to do it in MySQL, but look at how much easier it is in innoDB", that's great - fully answers the question and provides alternatives as well. Just "Use INNODB" is not. – Joe May 5 '14 at 16:01
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    It's worse in Parenting, though. While in programming, it's not necessarily a bad thing because it is still basically answering the question (how do I do X, just removing "with Y"), in parenting it's saying "Your opinion is wrong on X.", which is just starting an argument. To some extent this is an acknowledgement that parenting is a bit more opinion-centric than other sites, and that's okay. But at the end of the day, the point of SE is that it is not a forum, and in part that keeps us out of these sorts of arguments. Answers need to answer the question, not argue with it. – Joe May 5 '14 at 16:04
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    Every single example you cited is an AWFUL answer. In some well thought out cases, global variables are 100x better engineering choice than not having them. Some data doesn't make ANY sense to be organized in Objects. A professional does NOT always have a choice between InnoDB and MyISAM. The questions were NOT "should I use Globals" or "Which mySQL backend should I choose". – user3143 May 22 '14 at 16:11

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