OK, I'll admit it — the Onion story had me going for a minute there, too.
I saw it on Facebook on Wednesday, posted by a friend of mine in Australia (the World Wide Web is a wonderful thing). She made a funny comment, something along the lines of: "Sorry kids — we tried."
The headline said, "Study Finds Every Style of Parenting Produces Disturbed, Miserable Adults." Catchy, and much like the headlines that appear regularly in your daily newspaper about studies that find coffee causes wakefulness or eating too much makes you fat.
As a parent, I wanted to know more. So I clicked on the link.
Wow, I thought when I saw a dateline of Santa Rosa, Calif., I wonder why I didn't already hear about this. Then I saw in the first sentence that the study was done by the highly respected California Parenting Institute, and I was even more interested. So I kept reading.
I was a half-dozen lines into the thing before the alarm bells went off.
"Anything between those extremes (overprotective parenting or highly permissive parenting) is equally damaging ...," the CPI spokesman was quoted as saying.
Wait a minute, I thought. Is this for real? I looked closely at the URL, and there it was: www.theonion.com. Not real. Satire. Humor.
Ha-ha. They got me.
But apparently some readers didn't get it. Robin Bowen, CPI's executive director, stopped laughing when she came into work the next day and had callers and even staffers asking for more information about the "study." The non-profit put out a press release stating that it is not true that all parenting styles produce miserable adults. No kidding.
All of this indicates to me that, as more and more information becomes available to us through the magic of the Internet, we are not necessarily getting any smarter. In fact, it seems the more we read online, the less we think about it.
Maybe it's because there's no time to think. After all, who wants to pause and reflect when we can immediately click and move on to the next "must read" Occupy Wall Street explanation or "adorable" pet video. Who wants to question the source of the latest political screed — as long as it coincides with his own worldview?
I still hear people say, "Don't believe everything you read in the newspaper." It's a quaint adage that dates back at least to the last century — before the Internet. But we need to expand it, and perhaps modify it to include "everything you read, or hear, or view, or click on — anywhere."
In Saturday's Page 1 story about The Onion's article, Sonoma State University Professor Jonah Raskin said it quite clearly: "If you go online, you will find all kinds of things that are false and misleading about products and individuals."
Keep that in mind. And remember where you read this.