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Web Parenting

Web ParentingThe Internet can offer a variety of childrearing tips, say Tufts experts – but parents need to pay attention to the source. Medford/Somerville, Mass.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [10.03.03] More and more parents are turning to the Internet for answers to their parenting questions. But according to Tufts experts, parents need to pay attention to where their online information is coming from. While moms and dads may not know the difference between a "dot com" and a "dot gov," the answer can make a big difference in how credible the information is likely to be.

"[Ask yourself,] what are the last three letters of the website address?" reported The Boston Globe. Nancy Martland -- executive director of the Tufts University Child and Family WebGuide -- told the newspaper that this is one of the most important questions parents can ask about a website.

Web addresses ending in "gov" (government sites), "edu" (academic affiliations), or "org" (nonprofits) offer content that is not profit driven and is usually based on research. According to Martland, parents should watch out for sites ending with "com" (commercial) - as well as any web publication that doesn't identify who its sponsors are.

"If a site doesn't offer that option, consider it a red flag to trustworthiness," the Tufts expert told the Globe.

Martland said that failure to disclose sponsorship or source of information is one criterion the Tufts Child and Family WebGuide uses to evaluate parenting sites. The WebGuide -- built as a tool for parents -- offers reviews, evaluations and links to childrearing sites.

"One way to use the WebGuide is when you hear about a site, go to the WebGuide to see what Tufts professors think of it," reported the Globe. "The harder it is to find out about a site's sponsorship, the more leery Martland would be about information it imparts."

Fred Rothbaum -- professor in the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Development at Tufts -- reviewed one popular site, parentstages.com, for the Globe.

"Not only do they not have an ‘about us' page, but you can only discover who the sponsor is by going to the contact page. It's Kimberly-Clark [manufacturer of Kleenex, Huggies and Scott]," Rothbaum - who recently lead a Tufts study on the quality of child development information on the Internet - told the Globe.

Rothbaum added, "Another thing I find disturbing is that they purport to be ‘the best parenting content,' yet I could not find a single, noncommercial site among their partners nor a single article from a noncommercial site. To use the label ‘the best' with such restricted material is misleading at best."

The Tufts experts suggested that parents examine the interior pages of a site as another measure to help determine its validity.

"Unsigned articles make Martland nervous about reliability of information," wrote the Globe. "But even when articles are signed, as they are on more and more sites ending in ‘com,' credentials themselves are not foolproof."

Martland told the newspaper to check the credentials and affiliations of anyone claiming to be an expert on a topic.

"Just because someone is an MD doesn't mean there isn't a hidden agenda," Martland told the Globe.

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