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Parenting Experts and Advice Authors: Training and Evidence Requirements?

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Initial post: Aug 17, 2011 10:14:06 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 17, 2011 10:57:41 AM PDT
dharmaBum says:
Public school educators must typically complete 5 years of university training, a period of supervised work and pass competency exams before they can teach our children. However, parenting experts, who influence how those children will be raised before, during, and after the school years, have no education requirements at all.

Should basic education and certification requirements be put in place that make titles such as "Parenting Expert" legally defined professions similar to counselors, child care providers, and beauticians? The last three occupations require training before working with the public, but parenting experts and authors can be self-identified and promoted with no training or evidence that their theories are beneficial.

I write this question here because of lengthy difficulties I have had in disentangling the unbalanced parenting "advice" given by previously claimed psychologist Naomi Aldort in her book Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves ( But also because Aldort is in no way alone in writing parenting advice as if it were the only correct method without citing research to substantiate her claims.

The Five Love Languages of Children is written by professionals, but has no scientific evidence base. Do new parents realize that when they pick up the book? Foster Cline, developer of Love and Logic, also developed a highly controversial form or attachment "therapy" that has been completely rejected by the American Psychological Association ( The California Evidence-Based Clearinghouse for Child Welfare found that Love and Logic "lacks the necessary research evidence to be given either a Scientific Rating or a Child Welfare Relevance Rating (" Do parents know this when they follow the "advice" presented in Love and Logic to take actions such as pretending to act bored and exhorting a child to scale up a tantrum when faced with one (

I am also motivated to lobby for professional accreditation for parenting experts after basically loosing an older sister through "Tough Love" as my mother was encouraged via this parenting philosophy to set rigid standards and disallow a child to live with her who wouldn't follow those standards (

What do you think? Do you think that new parents are vulnerable and deserve some protection from the highly lucrative parenting publishing industry? Do you think it is up to each person to sort parenting authors out and "too bad" for the parents who don't have the education and savvy to recognize a disreputable or potentially harmful author when they read one? Or could there be a middle ground of voluntary accreditation, including disclosing a parenting author's education, professional licensure, and professional affiliations on their book jackets?

Posted on Sep 3, 2011 8:52:46 PM PDT
Chris says:

Posted on Sep 5, 2011 9:30:53 AM PDT
[Deleted by Amazon on Dec 20, 2011 12:47:17 PM PST]

Posted on Sep 5, 2011 8:15:24 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Sep 6, 2011 8:03:20 AM PDT
dharmaBum says:
Parnell, I'm looking forward to seeing what your replies will be :)

Myself, I'm looking for science and research generally, although I'm willing to read inspirational books, but I don't take the time too and am distrustful of hidden agendas. I don't actually want to know what "the best way" is. I want to learn about things that people have tried and what the results were. I want to know when things don't work and when they do.

Both of these books were based on science, Raising An Emotionally Intelligent Child The Heart of Parenting and Parenting From the Inside Out but neither has anywhere near the Amazon reviews of On Becoming Baby Wise: Giving Your Infant the Gift of Nighttime Sleep or Baby 411: Clear Answers & Smart Advice For Your Baby's First Year

It seems to me that parents are most likely to read the books that are most widely distributed by publishers.

Posted on Sep 6, 2011 7:58:10 AM PDT
[Deleted by Amazon on Dec 20, 2011 12:46:59 PM PST]

Posted on Sep 9, 2011 10:15:57 AM PDT
This is an interesting discussion. I am a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with training in Behavior Intervention, and a parent, and I wrote a book, Raising Children You Can Live With that is on Amazon. I have no references. I have no scientific data. It is a good question to ask why someone should read my book. I'm not sure how I would answer. I always tell people that there are a lot of god parenting books out there. I think mine deals with a different aspect of the parent-child relationship that I have found helpful in y clinical work, my work with parents and with teachers. I think research is good, but you can't always count the things that are most important. Of course you could count results, but then there are so many intervening variables that I wonder if the research could actually be significant. Can we use matched controlled groups? Can we use random assignment? Can we assure that the treatment is being used the same way in every sample? Can we have blind reviewers of the results. It would be interesting, but probably expensive, and there is no interest in funding that kind of research. Is bad, or inconclusive research worth doing? In the education field, there are many programs that claim to be "research based" and yet the research is not strong. (See What Works Clearinghouse for good examples). Some day perhaps. Thanks for the interesting post.
Jamie Raser, LCSW, LMFT

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 4, 2011 5:06:19 PM PDT
dharmaBum says:
@James I think that counting results is tremendously difficult, but can and should be attempted on several levels. However, my central concern has been, if the results of parenting strategies are not evidence-based, shouldn't parents know that explicitly when they pick up a parenting book? Like the warning labels on cigarettes and alcohol?

I agree strongly that there are education programs and strategies touted as "evidence-based" that often are not directly supported by their own findings given so many intervening variables and observer bias. The Marshmallow Experiment comes to mind, which seems to say that teaching children to delay gratification at a young age will result in high academic achievement: There were only 600 original test subjects, and the experimenter's daughter knew many of them. This gives me the suspicion that there wasn't great cultural or economic diversity among the study participants, or consideration of the many other variables that might influence a child's willingness and familiarity with delaying gratification. So how do we even know that this test is applicable to a broad audience? Yet this type of test has recently been used to support teaching children self-control (which in these cases is really submission to external control values) in order to later increase their SAT scores.

Oddly, children who are high in self-determination, and readily eat the marshmallow as soon as they like, are considered disadvantaged compared to children who are highly influenced by social expectations. Why are we trying to make one kind of child? Can't we live in a society that honors and supports both those high in self-determination and those highly motivated by external rewards?

Posted on Oct 13, 2011 3:19:09 PM PDT
Dr. Par says:
Over the past few decades I have discovered that the amout of credibility a person receives is inversly proportional to the amout of credibility he/she has. One example, I knew a man who had a highschool education and spoke with authority on every subject. People believed every thing he said was true and most of it, as far as I could tell, was misinformation. Kind of like why patients will listen to their hairdresser's advice over that of their gynecologist. Doesn't make sense to me, but I think it's true. Have the rest of youexperienced this too, or am I alone on this issue? Let me know your thoughts. Par

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 13, 2011 10:20:16 PM PDT
Parnell Donahue is the author of Messengers in Denim : The Amazing Things Parents Can Learn from Teens.

Posted on Oct 21, 2011 1:22:37 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Oct 21, 2011 2:31:52 PM PDT
jester says:
I only have life experience. I was a child who was abused and neglected and put throught the system, but made it through. I authored the newly released book "Detached: Surviving Reactive Attachment Disorder-A Personal Story" Available on Amazon and There is no one single cure for parenting. We all learn from trial and error and what we are taught. Best advice: Take everyones information and pick and choose what works best for you. Sometimes credentials are just that. Only a paper that says you completed said courses. This does not mean you have life experience. And vice verse, just because you have life experience, does not mean your an expert.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 22, 2011 11:36:03 AM PDT
dharmaBum says:
@Jessie- thanks for your input. Where do you stand on the primary question: Should parenting books explicitly state whether or not the contents are evidence based and detail the educational and professional experience of the author(s)?

Do you think there is a base line of what works, such as minimal human rights? I also come from a childhood of abuse and neglect, and that abuse was "what worked" for the adults charged with caring for me.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 22, 2011 1:03:44 PM PDT
jester says:
Yes i agree that the book needs to state weather or not it is based on life experience or school degrees or both. I have clearly stated in several places in my book that I am not a therapist and that what I write are just ideas and what worked for me, and that if a situation arises, then qualified degreed people should be saught. And yes I think there is a base line of what works, but we have to all be on the same page and find it. Right now I think we are too quick to medicate and cover the behaviors instead of attacking the deeper issues on what is causing the behaviors.

Posted on Nov 2, 2011 7:41:00 PM PDT
Chris says:

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 4, 2011 1:23:30 AM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Nov 4, 2011 3:32:45 PM PDT]

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 4, 2011 7:26:03 AM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Nov 6, 2011 4:12:20 PM PST]

Posted on Nov 7, 2011 1:29:19 PM PST
Juliette C says:
I'm interested to know what you are considering "evidence based" in this discussion. I have read many parenting books, mostly written by credentialed authors with MDs or PhDs, and have never seen any parenting theory based on scientific evidence-- mostly because it would be impossible to test and prove that any parenting theory or style was more effective than others since no two parents could implement the style in the same way and no two children would experience it in the same way. Essentially, its not really possible to develop a scientifically proven "right way" to parent children.
Now, there are aspects of parenting that can and have been tested and these results can and have been sited in many parenting books. These results can and have also been interpreted in different ways by different people because while science is (supposed to be) objective, the people who read about the results of the science are not objective.
The most important and widely-accepted scientific understanding of parenting outcomes I have heard in my psychology program is that as long as the child has a "good enough" parent 30% of the time then the child will usually turn out ok. I don't actually know off-hand what studies this comes from but it is the basis of a lot of very well-accepted evidence based theory and practice... it is also contradicted by many other studies that show that even single incidents of abuse can lead to severe damage of a child and that indicate that the outcome of parenting is confounded by an almost limitless number of variables that we basically can never adequately account for in research...
Temperament, however, does seem to play a large role in the outcome of a child's experience and may be more important than parenting style in predicting how well the child will fare. Certain "easy" temperaments (with high adaptability and low stress response) seem to be most resilient and least likely to suffer adverse effects from even severely deficient (or even abusive) parenting while "difficult" temperaments (high stress/ anxiety and low adaptability) seem more likely to suffer lasting negative effects from seemingly minor and/or rare difficulties or inadequacies.
So what does that mean for parents looking for a parenting book to tell them how to be a good parent? Well, 1st of all there is no one parenting book (no matter how amazing) that will work for or apply to every family or situation. 2nd you will need to learn to trust your instincts about what will work and/or try our a number of methods that seem likely to work for you, and 3rd be flexible and adjust the things you try until you find what works for you and your family.
Any parenting book that tells you that their way is the one right way to parent children is IMO lacking a very basic understanding of how different children, families, circumstances, and cultures are and how each of these factors (and more) will impact what is useful for any given parent/ family.

Posted on Nov 7, 2011 2:44:00 PM PST
The 'nature determines behavior' concept has long been standing in the way of qualified professionals being able to have a greater impact on raising our societies level of parenting skills in a general sense. Behavioral concepts such as 'the bad seed', 'temperament', and other attributed genetic influences on behavior have muddied the waters of child development with the ubiquitous notion that 'all kids are different', and , hence, need to be treated in ways appropriate to their inherent behavioral traits.

The idiosyncratic behavioral ways in which newborns differ is insignificant compared to that which they share in common in terms of their basic emotional needs. It is the adequate satisfaction of these shared needs for love and acceptance that will serve as a much greater determining factor in healthy emotional growth and development than any inherent differences that may exist.The Road To Positive Discipline: A Parent's Guide

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 7, 2011 5:51:25 PM PST
Juliette C says:
There seem to be two things you are saying with this post: 1) children are basically the same, and 2) "the goal" of parenting is "healthy emotional growth and development." I must say that I object to both of these premises.

To begin with, if you are basing your position off of the research presented in this one book then you are missing a lot of evidence about the issue. Much research has indicated that the temperament of the child has a great deal of impact on the outcome of any given stimulus or treatment and that children are born with a great deal of variation in their inherent temperament (generally on 5-7 axes). I don't happen to have the research next to me at the moment but I am immersed in this subject for the past few years so I can assure you that there are many studies available if you like to google "the impact of temperament" or something like that in google scholar.

Yes, infants and children have the same emotional needs but that doesn't in any way indicate that the way to meet those needs is the same. Children have different ways of experiencing the world (even as infants) based upon a great many genetic variants as well as according to things like the hormones and neurotransmittors they were exposed to in-utero (such as cortisol levels from maternal stress).

No two children, even if treated exactly the same way, will have the same experience and this is one of the magical and wonderful things about human development and uniqueness. It is the job of parents to figure out how to parent each of their children as the people they are and develop into.

On to whether the goal of parenting is to have healthy emotional growth and development... it is a part of the goal IMO. If you stop at this then you are missing out on a lot of other factors that will play a huge role in determining the child's ability to successfully navigate life as an adult. They need to learn how self-sufficiency, self-control, their cultural and social morals and values, the intellectual basis of their society, the laws of their society, how to interact socially, how to gain and maintain employment, how to parent, how to find answers, and so many other things. Yes, healthy emotional growth and development is important but it is not more important than a hundred other things that we have to help develop in our children before they go off on their own.

Posted on Nov 9, 2011 12:05:05 AM PST
Yes, as parent's we teach, as you say. But, your position on behavior is to claim that it is basically inherent. It's actually an ancient concept that began with the notion of God or Satan determining behavior, as well as evil spirits. Then came Astrology, Tarot Cards, and Genetics.

When the study of human behavior became a science, we came to find that nurture plays a much more significant role in the development of personality, in addition to healthy growth and development on an emotional level.

Over the years, I've worked with children displaying wide and diverse differences in behavioral traits. Invariably, the primary factor in their emotional well being has depended on the degree to which their emotional needs have been met. To illustrate, infants/children fail to thrive in the absence of love and affection regardless of any particular temperaments they may display. In addition, I would strongly suggest that 'temperaments' tend to be transient in nature based on the home environment.

I should also add that, as a child psychologist, I'm quite familiar with the evidence related to child behavior. You may not be aware of the fact that the reference I provided above is my own book. The Road To Positive Discipline: A Parent's Guide

Posted on Dec 15, 2011 11:11:42 PM PST
dharmaBum says:
@ Juliette C - I wanted to say Thank You for your fabulous post on November 7 @ 1:29:19 PM PST regarding temperament and parenting instincts and balance, et al. I haven't had time to respond to the topics, but I'm heartened by how considerately this conversation has been proceeding.

Posted on Jul 6, 2012 8:04:57 AM PDT
Reviewer says:
"dharmaBum" raises many worthy concerns. An academic that has similar concerns in Jean Mercer ("ChildMyths" blog and several books on Amazon).

The parenting "expert" problem is growing, with not only scientifically unvalidated and even invalidated methods on the market, but with the proliferation of unlicensed "parenting coaches" that offer their services across state lines, via phone and email. Another problem is so-called parenting experts with diploma mill degrees. One such prominent expert claims to have a doctorate, but it's from a post office box institute called "Columbus University" (which is meant to sound like Columbia).

It would really help if the California Evidence-Based Clearinghouse for Child Welfare would provide even more reliable reviews (EMDR should not get a top rating, nor should they rely on info from proponent organizations) and additionally give warnings for some, like Attachment Therapy/Parenting, aka Nancy Thomas parenting (
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Discussion in:  Parenting forum
Participants:  9
Total posts:  21
Initial post:  Aug 17, 2011
Latest post:  Jul 6, 2012

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