GoogleBy Sarah Vander Schaaff

I’m not sure any of us would want to explain a recent log of Google searches, a trail that out of context might make us out to be anything from hypochondriacs, stalkers, or really, really devoted bargain hunters. But perhaps as parents the most sensitive searches we make relate to our children.

Last month, The New York Times published a piece by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, Google, Tell Me. Is My Son a Genius?” (January 18, 2014) that revealed an apparent gender-based fear in parental Google searches.

According to Stephens-Davidowitz, “Parents are two and a half times more likely to ask, “Is my son gifted?” than “Is my daughter gifted?”” And the trend holds, he says, for other queries related to intelligence.

When it comes to girls, Stephens-Davidowitz says, parents ask, “Is my daughter overweight?” twice as frequently as they ask it about a son.

Stephens-Davidowitz points out these online searches go against the tide of reality. Statistically, a slightly higher percentage of boys are overweight than girls. Likewise, when it comes to being deemed gifted, it’s girls more than boys, who lead. But intelligence and appearance, at least in this analysis, reveal our preoccupations.

Still, as with anything on the Internet, it’s always good to wait before rushing to judgment or reducing an idea to its most sensational implication.

The comments after Stephens-Davidowitz’s piece are worth reading. As you might expect with something related to parenting, everybody’s got an opinion. Which, in this case, can be enlightening.

Some question the methodology behind the study, others remind us that perhaps inquiries about girls’ intelligence are made, just not on Google, and others attempt to explain the potential impulse behind the searches in the context of more nuanced factors.

One comment likened Google to a modern day oracle, an interesting perspective, reminding us that perhaps human nature does not change, just the means by which we express and inspect it.

Whatever your final take-away, the discussion forced us to take a break from worrying about how our kids are using the Internet and ask how the grown-ups are doing.


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