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I'm just looking at the first 10 questions on the Questions page and have noticed something unusual. 9 out of 10 of these questions are subjective, broad, and an invitation to discussion.

Parenting.SE to be sort of the black sheep of the Stack Exchange community. Opinionated and "advicey" answers are not only accepted, but they're the norm.

Why is this? Do we want to change this (and is it even possible)?

Related: How should we handle "bad" questions that are clearly popular?

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    I think you need to also ask, "Do we need to change it?" All SE sites are different and one on parenting is by it's very nature going to be different to one on programming. While I think we could get a bit tighter on requirements, I don't think this is actually a problem here. – Rory Alsop Mar 30 '15 at 15:23
  • @RoryAlsop Good point. I've updated my question. – LCIII Mar 30 '15 at 15:25
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    I think we get beyond having subjective questions. We get questions with loads of personal/background information that's not relevant to the core question, and may even drive off-topicness. Yet, somehow the relevance of organic vs not can be divisive! I have a hard time figuring out what this stack's priorities are. – user11394 Apr 1 '15 at 13:12
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    Parenting is always going to be a subjective topic because we each draw our answer from our own experiences as children, adults, and bystanders. Even if you go by what "experts" have written, those things are generally "proven" by many people agreeing that it worked well for them - I'm not sure how to distinguish between those questions that are "too" subjective and those that simply have multiple valid approaches. – DoubleDouble Apr 2 '15 at 21:11
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It's been said already in comments, but I think we are sufficiently different. I did peruse the site on two different days, and found significant differences. One is that we would close (and eventually delete) a number of questions that appear there, such as:

  • Why do single mothers think there [sic] capable of raising their sons alone? ("...let's fact [sic] it the only thing a single mother is capable of raising is a thug.")
  • Tonight I am sneaking out to a party, but I CANT face my parents punishment what should I do ?
  • Why are working mothers shamed for being selfish and neglecting their families while stay at home moms are called "gold diggers"?
  • Until what age would you consider someone much too young to have a baby?
  • Is Finley name ok for a girl?
  • Does taking vit C in large dose (6000mg/day) can really be effective for abortion?
  • Is it a good thing if a parent goes into the child's room and tear it apart for no reason?

Etc.

Actually, the list of such questions is quite long.

What distinguishes us even more from such a site is our style of answering. Perusing many answers, I didn't find any with references, and very many were one or two line opinions, some of which were quite... antisocial.

So, I have to disagree. We are not a lot like Yahoo Answers.

However, your question did help me to better improve my answers at out next evaluation. I had never visited the site, and was not coming up with Yahoo Answers when I googled our questions.

Clearly I need to expand my searches.

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    This largely encompasses my own feelings -- Yahoo Answers are typically very judgmental and unresearched, and exceedingly subjective. The most "opinionated and 'advicey'" Q&A on Parenting.SE have a much higher level of quality control, even though they may never be able to reach an arbitrary level of objective. – Acire Apr 3 '15 at 12:15
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    To add weight to the claim that our answers are researched: you researched Yahoo! Answers. Touché! – user11394 Apr 6 '15 at 19:27
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I feel that Parenting is not the 'black sheep' of Stack Exchange sites; rather, it's one of a few sites that is sort of an experiment in 'Can the Stack Exchange platform work for a topic that isn't black or white'. It's perfectly acceptable to have questions that cannot be definitively answered: almost nothing in parenting can, other than "are my kids awesome", which they clearly are.

We're not Yahoo Answers. That's an overreaction; that site is nearly unmoderated and hopelessly disorganized. But, there is nonetheless a good bit of useful discussion topic in this: specifically, how do we improve how we handle subjective questions, particularly advice questions, as these are going to be both our most difficult to have a clear guiding line on, and our least experienced users will often come in asking them.


What is important is to have a clear idea as a community what is acceptable as a question (and as answers). This is somewhat discussed in Good Subjective, Bad Subjective, where the original Parenting site (Moms4Moms, back in SE 1.0 days) is mentioned explicitly:

Moms4mom was an early Stack Exchange 1.0 case study in subjectivity. The owners knew from the outset that the topic of parenting was inherently and deeply subjective, a fundamentally bad fit to our engine. Parenting is one of the most subjective subjects I can imagine; every child is different, every parent is different, and whole cultures are wildly different in how they approach child rearing. After all, who can say for certain what order one should watch the Star Wars (saga) with your children for the first time?

The folks at Moms4mom owned up to the subjective issue and came up with a set of principles to create useful subjective discussions on parenting: the Back It Up! Principle. Back It Up! means that your answers must be based on either:

  • Something that happened to you personally
  • Something you can back up with a reference

They talk about how “opinion, by itself, is noise.” They’re not saying that subjective opinions are to be avoided; they’re attempting to mold and shape their inherently subjective Q&A into something constructive, informative and helpful. As it turns out, there is an entire field of subjective “expertise” that has the hallmarks of making great Q&A sites:

Image

What we have to do is have a very good, concrete idea of what's okay here and what's not, and stick to that. I do agree that we've gotten away from that recently; not anyone's fault, just that we've had a pretty large turnover in mods and in people recently such that we have a very different set of opinions now. Going through close review earlier today I noticed three different questions, each of which had basically a 50/50 split between leave open/close, with 2+ votes for each. That never happens on StackOverflow, because it's very obvious what's opinion based and what's not. But here, if we don't have a cohesive idea of what's okay, we end up with questions where we disagree.

This probably could be a different question entirely and answer, but I'll start off with what my feelings are here.


On topic advice questions are:

  1. Questions about how to do some concrete parenting task. How to potty train. How to properly diaper. How to clip nails.
  2. Questions about how to do a particular approach to a (less concrete) parenting task. How to best/better implement a particular method for discipline. How to teach a child to read using the Phonics method. These questions would be off topic in 1. - "How do I teach my child to read" is too broad and opinion based, not to mention "How do I discipline my child" - but they're specific enough for 2.
  3. Questions asking advice for improving how a parent does a particular even less concrete task. "My child is out of control, how do I fix it?" is too broad, but "My child is out of control at bedtime. I've been working on helping him calm down before bed by using play-dough as a calming activity, but it's not working as well as I'd hoped; what else can I do that will help him calm down?" is fine, because it's specific enough to be given a good answer.

The basic gist here is that advice questions must be either concrete or specific, one of the two. The more concrete the topic, the less specific it needs to be; the less concrete the topic, the more specific it needs to be. It's probably a good idea to come up with a list of ten or fifteen actual questions or well written example questions that are 'good' and 'bad', and put that in a question on the site for people to be pointed to.

Further, all of those are specific examples from a person's personal life. That's very important in my opinion in Parenting. I think it's perfectly okay to have non-personal questions when they're very good and very specific, but they should be held to a much higher standard.

Why is that? Not only because it's how we avoid having discussion questions, but because a question that is not from personal experience is by its nature less specific. You can't ask specific followups if someone asks "I don't have a baby, but if I did, how could I help it sleep better at night if it's waking up all the time?" There's just no way to get information that doesn't exist, but would otherwise be helpful to answer the question by making it more specific.


Some things that tell me a question is not appropriate for this site at first glance:

  1. Starting a question with "I read in a magazine", and not ultimately focusing the question to personal experience. It's okay to ask "Ms. said in an article that my baby should be able to walk by eight months, but my baby is just lying and looking still. Is she behind?" because it ultimately gets back to the specific experience and question, and the article is just giving some background. But most questions that start this way are discussion oriented; "I saw something interesting and want to talk about it". I hold these up to a higher bar. If they're posted, like the Narcissist Parent question, we need to have a clear guidance on how to explicitly fix them and to help the user get to the question they really want to ask, if there is a non-discussion oriented question in there. Sometimes there isn't, and some users won't like that; but when there is, we need to help them get to the right place.
  2. Questions focusing on advice for adult or nearly-adult children dealing with their parents, unrelated to parenting issues specifically. I think these should mostly be off topic; these are adult relationship issues, not parenting issues. They're related to parenting sort of tangentially, but it's just hard to fix them down to specifics that are really likely for parenting experts to have expertise in (remember the picture above?). If it's a 13 or 14 year old I'm good with it, but a 18 or 20 year old, most of those questions are just a bit far from our regular area of expertise to be good questions here. (This one might need to be its own own question, as it's something we've had a lot of back and forth on in the past.) It's too bad Relationships didn't work out, as that would simplify things very much for us here; but that doesn't mean we should by default become Relationships.SE as well.
  3. Advice about "Which is best", when is something is not concrete, and without specific criteria. "Which method is best to teach my kids to read" is not very good (as above) because there are lots of methods, and this will just be a list/discussion question. "My child has mild autism and dyslexia; which method is recommended for helping him learn to read" is fine, because it's specific enough with the reasons why you might choose one method over the other.
  4. Questions that are a dump of a situation with "What do I do?" or "I'm lost, please help". We need to put these on hold immediately, and point the author to good examples of how to make their question specific enough and organized such that they can get good help. These are where LCIII is probably starting to see Yahoo Answers in our questions; while I think that is an overreaction, it is where our site starts to look like it's a bit overgrown with weeds sometimes, particularly when they hit Hot Questions. Give the users tools to fix these questions, and quickly move to put them on hold so they do fix them. Leaving them open long enough to attract answers gives the users no incentive to improve them.

That brings up a final point. Those of us who are experienced enough to be reading this: Please do not answer a question that needs significant improvement. Even if it's interesting or the person needs help desperately or it's an easy quick answer. If the question isn't a good question, Vote to Close and help them get it to a good question in comments. Answering a question means you think it's a good question, and encourages more questions like it, as they clearly get results.

I'm not saying that we should punish posters for bad questions; on the contrary, while they might get a decent answer from a bad question, on the whole they will usually get better answers from better questions, and other posters in the future will not see the bad question as a model to follow. And of course, if it needs small changes, just make those and feel free to answer; this is really meant for those 'big issue' questions where it needs a lot of work to be a good question.

  • I do agree with Erica's comment on Anongoodnurse's answer as well: our answers are well researched, and I think that's also an important thing. It's one reason I get frustrated on Sports for example: some of the time, it seems like researched answers aren't the norm. Here, they usually are, and well researched answers get upvoted more. – Joe Apr 3 '15 at 17:05

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