Sometimes questions arise in which the poster asks something like "How best to do X" when many people disagree that X should be done at all.

Two recent examples come to mind. In one, the OP asked what kind of firearm to start his children on. Some of the commenters indicated a desire to close the question because they didn't think children should use firearms at all. In another, the poster asked when corporal punishment was appropriate and the commenters wanted to close the question because they felt that striking a child is never appropriate.

Should we vote to close questions like these?

On the one hand, I understand the desire to close questions like these. I also agree that striking a child is never appropriate, and that maybe the best gun for a child is no gun at all.

But on the other hand these are just my opinions, and my opinion is no more or less valid than anybody else's; including those of the OP who wants to know which gun to choose. Closing questions that ask which gun to choose, simply because we don't think any gun is appropriate, sounds like a slippery slope leading to censorship to me.

There is also a question raised in the gun thread about whether or not the question should be closed for the same reason a question like "which soccer ball should I buy my child" should be closed: because it's not strictly about parenting but about soccer. I won't go as far as saying this reasoning sounds disingenuous, but it does smack of loophole-searching to me. After all, there are other questions like this one that are completely non-controversial, but also have nothing to do with parenting. Should we not discuss which stroller to buy?

None of the issues raised by the above posts are strictly about parenting (like this one might be), but they are concerns that parents might have.

I propose that we not vote to close these questions as being off-topic unless they truly are off-topic. If you think that the best gun for a child is no gun at all, you can express that by posting an answer of your own to the question. But the question is a valid one.

After all, closing the question that asks "which gun should I buy" isn't going to convince the OP or anyone else that the best gun is no gun at all. It will only result in those parents who do want to buy a gun having fewer resources at their disposal in making an informed choice.

  • Very well said. Why not let people answer and discuss things even though they may be controversial?
    – J.J.
    Commented Apr 8, 2011 at 2:39
  • I give you a +1 on the answer, but a -1 on the question, as the closed gun question isn't closed mainly because of controversy, as shown by the fact that other controversial questions did not get closed, including the one on gun safety. So the premise of the question is incorrect. Commented Apr 9, 2011 at 16:15

7 Answers 7


I propose that we not vote to close these questions as being off-topic unless they truly are off-topic. Closing a question simply because you disagree with the premise is censorship. If we close these questions, we tell the world, "We won't discuss controversial issues."

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    @John Dibling provided its not asking for shopping specifics...
    – C. Ross
    Commented Apr 8, 2011 at 9:46
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    I'm sorry, I disagree. Several questions have already been responded to with shrill declarations that the OP is parenting WRONG, is lazy, putting him/herself before the child's welfare, etc. I've already had 2/3 people I recruited to this site leave without registering over the "anyone who doesn't co-sleep is a horrible parent" rants on every bedtime question. (One is an attachment parenting enthusiast.)
    – HedgeMage
    Commented Apr 9, 2011 at 14:35
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    We are an international community drawn from myriad cultures and backgrounds. We need to show we can handle tough questions by passing by those we don't agree with, and speaking rationally on those we have something to add to. Doing otherwise just teaches people that we are a clique and non-members had better not dare ask a question.
    – HedgeMage
    Commented Apr 9, 2011 at 14:35
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    @Hedge: I'm not sure I understand your position. My suggestion is that we leave controversial questions open in order to generate reasonable discussion. You seem to be saying that you are opposed to my position because controversial subjects draw strong responses. Am I reading your comment correctly? Is gthis really a problem with the question, or the people who choose the wrong language in responding to those questions? Commented Apr 9, 2011 at 15:38
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    @John-Dibling: I agree that we should leave such questions open. I do NOT agree that it is appropriate to respond to a question about "How do I do X" with "Doing X is bad parenting", especially with regard to a culturally-entrenched topic like firearm ownership. If you are against X, just pass the question by. Those who practice X are most qualified to advise on it anyway.
    – HedgeMage
    Commented Apr 9, 2011 at 15:41
  • @Hedge: Ah, I see what you're saying now. Personally, I think you are wrong, but I see now that this is a completely different question. Commented Apr 9, 2011 at 15:49
  • @Hedge: I have edited my post. Do you agree with the edited position? Commented Apr 9, 2011 at 15:51
  • @John: I agree with the edited version 100% :) (and I upvoted)
    – HedgeMage
    Commented Apr 9, 2011 at 15:54

First off... As a general rule, if someone's asking how to do something, you should try to answer that question. If you don't know, move on - wait for someone else to answer it. If you absolutely believe that it should never be done, you can provide that as an answer... IF, and only if, you can back it up.

Please note that opinions shared here should be backed up either with a reference, or experiences that happened to you personally. -- the site faq

Answers that boil down to "I'm personally opposed to [guns|spanking|meat|religion|football|television], therefore you should avoid it" aren't helpful to anyone. I strongly encourage you to down-vote these if you see them - even flag them for a moderator if they're attracting too much attention...

Regarding your examples

This is a great question*. I found the accepted answer interesting and informative - and I'm neither a parent nor a gun enthusiast!

...But it's not a great topic for this site. While questions of whether or not to keep guns around... and if so, how to keep your children away from them are something that can and should be addressed by a community of parents/caregivers, the relative merits of different guns and the procedures for training are not. Once you're serious about finding an answer to those questions, you want an answer composed and reviewed by experts in the subject matter - and the goal of Stack Exchange is to provide you with a site where those experts will be found, not a catch-all site where you might be lucky enough to have one show up. I strongly recommend you and anyone else interested in this subject to commit to the Firearms proposal on Area51.

Why is a question on choosing a "first gun" inappropriate while "first stroller" is allowed? Because a stroller is fundamentally a tool for parents. Questions on choosing diapers, bottles, etc. would also be fine. If, for some reason, you were looking to buy a stroller for hauling mulch, then yeah, that would also be off topic (but, commit to the gardening proposal...)

*HedgeMage points out that the gun question may actually have been asking for specific model recommendations - in other words, a shopping question. These are generally considered off-topic on all SE sites, as the market for most items changes too quickly for them to be kept up-to-date.

Now, this question is most certainly on-topic... But, as was made clear in the reason for closing, it is very subjective and argumentative. Focused, well-researched Q&A regarding discipline is extremely important, but instead we got posturing and bickering. I'm sorry, but that doesn't help anyone - if you were unaware that "striking your child" is a controversial and polarizing notion, there are plenty of forums ready to enlighten you.


Don't think about this as "censorship". The goal here is to build a place where we can exchange information on a reasonably specific subject: raising children. So naturally there are a tremendous number of possible questions that either don't result in useful information, or simply aren't specific to that subject. Those questions will be removed. Perhaps they'll find a home somewhere else in the network, perhaps they won't... But when you have a question on parenting, you'll know you can come here and find an answer to it.

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    -1 The "first gun" question and the "first stroller" question are not different because of the item being bought, they are different because the former asks for specific model or item recommendations (which is off-topic as its usefulness will expire quickly), while the latter is more of a "what should I look for in a..." question, which has much more longevity.
    – HedgeMage
    Commented Apr 8, 2011 at 21:19
  • @Hedge: Interesting... I didn't read it that way (I took the second sentence as a clarification of the first, implying that the asker was trying to decide between different types of guns) - but I'm hardly an expert on this topic (which was sorta my point...) If you think it would be inappropriate for Firearms.SE as well, I'll defer to your expertise in the matter.
    – Shog9
    Commented Apr 8, 2011 at 21:33
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    I must hasten to add though, the item being bought most certainly does matter. This isn't a site for guns, dirt-bikes, guitars, or microwave-ovens; although children can certainly be instructed in the use of many different things, asking for assistance on a parenting site when the item in question isn't designed primarily for the use of children is a slippery-slope: eventually, you end up with, "What should I look for in a new home stereo system - as a parent?"
    – Shog9
    Commented Apr 8, 2011 at 21:44
  • I think you are definitely right about there being a grey area here between "what should I look for in a crib" and "what should I look for in a tv". I think that a useful metric for the things in-between might be: "Are experts who could answer this question authoritatively more likely to be found on our site than on some other?" E.g. if I wanted to know what could be done to make care travel easier on an autistic child with profound sound sensitivities, I'd ask on parents... if I knew what I wanted to do and wasn't sure how to modify my car, I'd ask on an automotive site.
    – HedgeMage
    Commented Apr 8, 2011 at 21:56
  • @Shog9 - actually, I asked previously a question about bikes for kids and it was pretty well recieved. So, I'm not sure you're correct in stating that any "how to pick X for kids" is offtopic independent of X.
    – user3143
    Commented Jun 1, 2015 at 2:10

Closing questions should be avoided unless it is truly off-topic. This is a community site, not your own site, so closing a topic because you personally disagree with it is harming the community. In effect it is saying that the site should not allow topics that one or five people disagree with.

I have little problem with people down voting my answer or answering my question saying they completely disagree with me, but closing or deleting my questions and answers because you disagree would make me leave the site instantly.

Keep it community oriented and not "me" oriented. Let questions stay if they can benefit at least someone in the community. This will make a safe environment where everyone, including you, feel safe to post any question, even if you know it can be controversial.


In the gun case case I flagged it as off topic, because honestly, what gun to buy your 6yo kid is not only a crazy question, but I'd say it is also off-topic.

Update: As per a comment below: Asking if you should buy an UEFA or a FIFA football for your kid (or maybe even one of the IFAF handeggs) is also off topic. Note that the related question about gun Safety is not closed, and I don't think it should be closed. It's not off topic.

The question on physical punishment only has one close vote, and I don't think it should be closed. The question assumes that it is OK to strike your child in some instances, and that makes it a bad question, but not off topic.

Update: it's been closed by a moderator now, as subjective and argumentative, which may be true, see my updated answer.

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    It's not crazy when you have a family that competes in shooting contests and is serious about safety and training. You wouldn't have downvoted "what soccer ball to buy my 6 yo" because you're not fearful of soccer balls. Just because you've obviously been raised to fear guns and think that kids taking up gun shooting as a sport is crazy doesn't make it a crazy question and doesn't warrant closing it out. That goes against the objective nature of these sites.
    – J.J.
    Commented Apr 8, 2011 at 2:36
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    @Javid: Soccer balls can not be used to kill people. You don't need education in soccer ball safety. it's a silly comparison. I do not fear guns, I haven't been raised to fear guns, I was shooting with air guns at 8, and have military training with several weapons. The safe way to handle shooting contests for kids is to not have the kids there. Full stop. But yes, I think "What soccer ball should I buy" also is off topic. I have NOT voted to close down the gun safety question, because that is not off topic. Commented Apr 8, 2011 at 9:22
  • If we censor every question someone has a serious problem with, we will have no questions. Christianity has killed more people than negligent firearm discharges, yet I haven't gone off the deep end every time teaching it is mentioned.
    – HedgeMage
    Commented Apr 9, 2011 at 14:37
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    @Lennart: With respect to the "striking a child question" you are saying that the question should be closed because it is never OK to strike a child. I agree; striking a child os never OK. But closing the question because you disagree with the premise is censorship. If you don't think it's right to strike a child, the correct response is to reply to the OP with a well-reasoned explanation why it is not OK to strike a child. Closig the question will not convince the OP or anyone else that striking a child is not OK. Leaving the question open does not imply tacit approval of the OP. Commented Apr 9, 2011 at 15:42
  • @Lennart: (cont'd) Closing the question simply tells the world, "We can't handle tough or controversial questions." Or, "We are a clique. You can only ask questions that we like." Commented Apr 9, 2011 at 15:43
  • @John: I've never said what you claim I say. In fact, I hold the complete opposite opinion of the one you ascribe to me. Your answer argues against a position I don't think anyone holds. Commented Apr 9, 2011 at 16:06
  • @Lennart: You did, here: "The question assumes that it is OK to strike your child in some instances, and that makes it a bad question, but not off topic." Commented Apr 9, 2011 at 16:08
  • @John: What I said there is the exact opposite of what you claimed I said. Commented Apr 9, 2011 at 16:09
  • @Lennart: OK, I think I see what you're saying now. I went and looked at the striking question again and see that you did not vote to close it. You're sayign the question should not be closed, but down-voted? Commented Apr 9, 2011 at 16:11
  • @John: Exactly. It's a bad question, because it makes incorrect assumptions. But it is not off topic. Commented Apr 9, 2011 at 16:13
  • @Lennart: I disagree with this as well. It's not a bad question just because you don't like the premise. Commented Apr 9, 2011 at 16:16
  • @John: It's not a question of liking. The premise is incorrect. Hint: I really do mean what I say. Not something else, and not something similar. When I say it makes incorrect assumptions I don't mean "it makes assumptions I don't like". I really do mean that the assumption is incorrect. Please take me more literally, because communicating like this is pointless. Thanks. Commented Apr 9, 2011 at 16:17

You have to have, what, 5 votes to close? If 5 people think it's sufficiently off topic to use one of their few flags for it, I'm not too worried about it being off topic. Until we start seeing a rash of excessive closes at least.

I think at this point we've only seen a couple questions actually get closed by community vote, the only controversial one of them was re-opened almost immediately by mods. (that I've seen, I might have missed some if they came and went all in a couple hours.)

At least one of those questions I think suffers from some language differences... I'm in the camp that never read the spanking question as anything but spanking... I don't think the original asker in any way suggested the abusive definition of "striking" that most folks associate with that word, but only paddling/spanking. (maybe I'm naïve, but that's how I read the question.)

I actually think that's a more prevalent problem on parenting-SE than on other stacks, simply because parenting is so emotional and folks tend to read the worst into things when there are language/terminology confusions. When those kind of things happen on other stacks, like diy.SE we have a good laugh, explain what was meant and every one moves on.

  • some people would see any form of spanking as bad, and maybe abusive. it's not legal in some countries after all.
    – DanBeale
    Commented Sep 2, 2011 at 18:45

How about closing questions that are clearly trolls purely because they're hot-button political topics that invariably lead to flame-wars? Is this site about divisive politics, or is it about parenting?

  • Troll questions would be closed anyway, under the premise of "not a real question". This topic deals with topics that are on-topic and valid, yet controversial. Commented May 19, 2011 at 9:38

I understand your argument that closing because of disagreement is a sort of censorship.

Ordinarily, I'd agree with you that closing questions that are borderline-maybe-not-offtopic-but-unpopular would be wrong. But consider that we're in a beta period right now, and it's in our interest to attract more participants. I think highly controversial topics are not helpful in that. Like peeing in the pants in winter, it might bring quick help (warmth; a flurry of questions and answers) but it soon turns against us (wet; over-representation of a topic that's not central to the site's goal). I think the gun issue is one of the most controversial topics that we can find. As such, it's probably not the best beta contribution. I can think of a few more, but I don't want to inspire more controversy.

In this perspective, a certain amount of "censorship" might be valid for now to make sure we're not losing/scaring away potential users.

In the Stack Exchange system that promotes a very clear differentiation between right and wrong, we're collectively not sure how to deal with these subjective topics. We need to find a way to navigate this unfamiliar situation, which is why we don't always agree on the proper reaction to some of the contributions. In that, I think the discussions around these situations have been remarkably civilised.

  • -1 because I believe that censorship in beta teaches our participants that potentially controversial topics aren't welcome on this site. What we do now sets the tone for the future, and I don't want censorship to be core to our site's culture. Let's show people that we aren't afraid to tackle tough questions and be proud of it!
    – HedgeMage
    Commented Apr 8, 2011 at 21:16
  • @HedgeMage, I think Shog phrased the meaning of censorship well in his conclusion. He actually said that certain issues will be removed, which is what I meant. The question of what's really relevant vs. off-topic remains unresolved. Commented Apr 9, 2011 at 17:31

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