The equivalent of a media practical joke seemed funny at first to the head of a Santa Rosa parenting institute.
But it quickly turned into a nightmare.
The Onion, a 23-year-old satirical online and print publication, wrote a tongue-in-cheek story that all styles of parenting cause children to grow up into "profoundly unhappy adults," based on a study credited to the California Parenting Institute of Santa Rosa.
The reported research — which caused tremors in parenting circles nationwide — found that even varying parenting styles lead to bitterness, isolation or adults "unprepared to contend with life's difficulties."
Except the institute never conducted any such study.
Robin Bowen, executive director of CPI, is familiar with The Onion and even laughed when she was first alerted to the faux-story by her daughter Thursday morning.
"Her friend in Portland had emailed her with the link," Bowen said. "She came in and woke me up and said, &‘Mom, you are never going to believe this.'"
It was when she got to work later that morning that the enormity of the impact became clear.
The story brought a deluge of calls to the Standish Avenue offices of the 33-year-old non-profit advocacy group.
"We even had parent educators who work here say, &‘When did we do a study?'" said Wendy Hilberman, director of marketing and development for CPI.