Psychologists Nancy Martland, PhD, and Fred Rothbaum, PhD, of Tufts University's Eliot Pearson Department of Child Development, have received a two-year, $350,000 grant from the William T. Grant Foundation to research the kind of child development information parents want to find on the Internet.
Their findings will be used to further develop WebGuide, a site Martland created in 1995 with the Society for Research in Child Development that evaluates Internet sites about child development information.
The guide was developed amid growing awareness about the wealth of unregulated information available on the Internet. According to Rothbaum, "Much of this information is inaccurate and potentially dangerous." He cited an example of parents who are looking for information about spanking, saying that an Internet search may yield sites advocating the practice, but these same sites might also ignore scientific evidence about spanking's negative consequences.
WebGuide features sites related to education and learning, child care and day care, general parenting, health, development and family activities. A panel of 19 specialists, including leading researchers in psychology, formulated a criterion for evaluating child-friendly sites, which includes reliability based on whether there is sufficient evidence to support a Web site's content, the authority of the sponsoring organization, ease of use and stability (i.e., evidence that a site's content is regularly maintained).
"The Internet is access to information. WebGuide is the first effort to evaluate child development information," says former executive vice president of the William T. Grant Foundation, Lonnie Sherrod, PhD. "It's both unique and highly needed."
So far, WebGuide has screened more than 2,000 sites. Only 125 have "excellent" or "very good" ratings and are accessible through WebGuide. Web sites that receive a "poor" rating do not have links.
The next two years will be spent investigating parents' needs and tailoring WebGuide to meet those needs by providing links to magazine articles, recent research reports and professionally monitored chat rooms. "If parents can do one-stop shopping on the Internet for all of their informational needs, we believe they can have a more positive impact on children's lives," says Martland. "We want to make it as parent-friendly as possible."