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Jewish World Review Nov. 23, 1999 /14 Kislev, 5760

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Beware of media skewing numbers

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- FOR A LONG WHILE I've been pointing out to my radio audience that the media in general, and so-called family or parenting magazines in particular, have been subtly and relentlessly orchestrating a "new and improved way" of looking at families and the role of parents in their children's lives. I don't believe this has been for the betterment of the lives of children or society.

The techniques used in this world of child-free parenting vary. First, there is the canonization of those parents (usually mothers) who squeeze children in around their important and fulfilling careers. Next, there is a pretty consistent misrepresentation of seriously flawed socio-psychological research to support nonparental child care. Last, there is increasing coverage of all kinds of family groups other than the two-parent, heterosexual, married-couple-as-parents model, traditionally considered fundamental for the welfare of children.

As this trend began, I received hundreds of letters from confused and frightened folks whose commonsense vision of real life was threatened by the so-called experts who "knew the truth." The tide is turning. The media consumer is becoming more astute to the game. Here are some examples:

Sheila from Chicago sent me a copy of a letter she sent to Parents magazine in June. At first, according to her letter, Sheila was pleased to see that the magazine had developed a section on current research findings of interest to its audience. "However," Sheila wrote to the magazine, "I felt that your summaries were presented in an irresponsible manner which could be misleading. To start, you should always provide your readers with the proper citations, so that they may access the source articles themselves. However, if they do so, they may find that your summaries are misleading -- as did I."

The article in question was a report of research conducted by Elizabeth Harvey, which was purported to prove that "Kids of Working Moms Do Fine," according to the magazine headline. "First of all, your article states, 'Bottom line: There were no significant differences between kids of working moms and at-home moms.' In contrast, the research found that there WERE differences. ... Most importantly, the key findings relate mostly to children of young, low-income (low IQ, largely unmarried, ill-educated, generally minority) women. ... This important fact significantly affects the interpretation of the findings, yet it is never mentioned in your article.

"While the world of academics and social science can provide very meaningful insights to help us be better parents, it is your responsibility as publishers to accurately and completely report such findings in your articles. Other such inferences should be reserved for the editorial page."

Diane wrote to me about the November 1999 issue of Child magazine. "It covers," she wrote, "whether children of homosexual parents turn out differently than those raised by heterosexuals. It said there are no more problems with these children in self-esteem, academic success or peer relationships -- only 'confusion' perhaps during preschool or adolescence. I found many subtleties in its writing and layout to be of concern to me."

Diane also sent me the magazine page, which was a collage of various bits and pieces of new research findings by the American Academy of Pediatrics, as well as the piece on children in homosexual homes. This piece did not attribute the findings to any research source or author. Diana's letter continues: "Isn't it interesting that it is given the semblance of being factual, as it is placed among fact-based articles by the American Academy of Pediatrics. The article stated there is 'new information' and 'studies' but fails to say what is 'new' or cite the 'studies.' The other articles had substantiation in numbers, percentages or milligrams!"

Finally, Susan from Bristol, Pa., "decided to peek at a copy of Working Mother magazine, June 1999. ... I was attracted to an article about how to discipline your children when you have no time or energy. Maybe they had some magic spell or potion. Eagerly I read, and was soon disappointed and saddened. The subject of the story was a working mother with a 4-year-old son and 6-month-old twins. When her son threw a fit, she was stern. When the child's fit woke the twins, she went to her second option and threw herself upon the sofa and cried. The author talked about ... getting only 3 1/2 hours of sleep at night and barely having the energy to get through the workday, let alone handle discipline and other problems.

"After reading this ... a thought popped into my unenlightened, want-to-be-a-housewife mind: Who would intentionally put themselves into this kind of life? And when (or if) the dust ever settles, who wins? The woman who can boast about all power, prestige and purchasing power, but has not a minute to enjoy an intimate moment with and bond to her little darlings? The children who get to live a life as hurried and unsettled as their mothers? All I can see are losers."

Please don't be intimated by much of the media's sensationalizing, propagandizing and misrepresentation by thinking that common sense, personal sacrifice and traditional values have expired in value and importance. Get yourself informed and write back!

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©1999, Dr. Laura Schlessinger. This feature may not be reproduced or distributed electronically, in print or otherwise without the written permission of Universal New Media and Universal Press Syndicate.