by Rachelle Lipschultz
The wonderful thing about the Internet is that it can be an incredible source of information—but the flip side is that it’s a lot of information to wade through. (For example, this morning I typed the word “children” into Google and got approximately 1,190,000,000 hits; the word “parenting” yielded approximately 77,000,000.) With all the parenting advice out there, how are you supposed to separate the good from the bad? How do you know where to even begin your searches? In this article of the e-zine, we focus on evaluating sources and strategies for quickly finding quality information. Although we’ll be focusing on online resources, the same criteria can be used for books, magazines, and any other sources of information you may find.
FINDING RELIABLE PARENTING INFORMATION ONLINE
by Rachelle Lipschultz
Any time you go to a Web site, there are certain things you can look for which indicate that it’s probably a valid resource:
- Who is the author? Does this person have any educational or other credentials which indicate an expertise in the field? Look for links such as “About this site” or “About the author.” One warning sign is vague statements. For example, the title “Dr.” can be used by people with degrees in many different fields. Someone with a Ph.D. in English literature may be very smart, but it doesn’t mean he or she is qualified to give medical advice. But if someone names specific credentials (“I am a pediatrician in Boston,”) then you can be more confident about what you are reading. Sure, the person could be lying, but liars usually don’t give details that could be too easily checked out.
- What organization is sponsoring the site? Even if no single author is listed, you can still evaluate a site based on the sponsoring organization. Go to the organization’s home page to find out more about its purposes, philosophy, and staff. In addition, check to see if the organization monitors and/or takes responsibility for what is on its site. (For example, at many universities students and faculty have personal space on the server, where they can publish whatever they like.)
- Note: Many people tend to think that the domain name (.gov, .edu, .com, .org, etc.) is an automatic clue to the quality of the page. This is not true. For example, there are many reputable sites that end in .com, such as http://www.got-milk.com/ And on the flip side, http://www.martinlutherking.org/ looks like it would take you to a reputable site, but the site is obviously biased and inflammatory (and, as we see at the bottom of the page, sponsored by a white supremacist organization called Stormfront).*
- What is the goal of the site? Does the author seem to be biased or objective? Is the goal of the site to sell a particular brand or product? If so, then the advice will often be slanted to increase potential sales.
- When was the site last updated? You’ll often find a “last updated” or “submitted” date at the bottom of a page. The Internet is filled with old and abandoned pages. Why rely on outdated information when you can find out the latest and greatest?
- Is the information on the page accurate? Obviously, you can’t always tell for sure—that’s why you’re going to the Web site in the first place! However, there are things you can look for that indicate that the information is based on solid evidence. For example, is there a bibliography or reference list? Does the author link to other reputable sites which back up his/her arguments? Does the site have a lot of spelling and grammatical errors? If so, then be wary. Such errors indicate that the author was careless in putting the site together, which may mean that the person was also sloppy in verifying facts and making sure that advice was clearly presented. In addition, watch out for any site that makes outrageous claims or offers simple, one-size-fits all solutions to complicated problems. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
It is important to remember that a site which does not meet the above criteria may still be providing good advice. For example, Gerber http://www.gerber.com/ obviously has a vested interest in selling you their own products, yet their Web site includes some excellent information about development at different ages. And it’s possible that someone with excellent professional credentials (or a parent with only her own experience to go by) might provide wonderful advice on a personal home page without including references. But since there are so many sources of information to choose from, why risk it? Why not just go with the sites that are clearly trustworthy?
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*Note: These sites are used only as examples. Site content does not necessarily reflect the views of AACC.