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What Google search reveals about families

Google’s autocomplete function provides some interesting if unscientific insights into American families and the profile isn’t very complimentary.

As you type a word in the search box, google automatically suggests phrases to assist your research efforts. Google reports that these dropdown phrases are “algorithmically determined based on a number of factors, like the popularity of search terms, without any human intervention.”

When I typed “My mom,” the most three most popular suggested phrases were “crazy,” “dad”, and “annoying.”  Dads didn’t fare any better.  The suggested autocomplete phrases that popped up were “fat”, “a jerk,” and “dead.”

Maybe these responses are understandable in that kids don’t use a search engine to look up nice things to say about their parents. When kids get frustrated or annoyed, perhaps it’s somehow therapeutic to refer to their parents as crazy or jerks and then read others’ perspectives.

What about parents’ feelings towards their children?  When I typed “my son” and “my daughter,” google autocomplete suggested the same word—gay.  I interpreted this to be an honest effort by parents to better understand the dynamics of their children’s sexuality.

However, the other autosuggested words for “my son” were “a loser,” and “an atheist” while “my daughter” elicited “pregnant” and “fat.”

A more scientific view of parent-child interactions was recently reported by Child Trends, which indicated a substantial increase in feelings of parental aggravation towards their children. Whereas the parental aggravation index was 20 percent in 1997, it rose dramatically to 33 percent in 2012.

All of us get annoyed at times at our children, but these studies looked at indicators of significant frustration—how often parents get angry at their child, felt their child was harder to raise than others and how frequently the child did things that really bothered the parent.

This aggravation index is important, as Child Trends reported that children residing in homes with aggravated parents “…are less well-adjusted and experience more negative outcomes.”

Are kids misbehaving more today than they were 15 years ago, or are parents simply more reactive?  Are the increasing numbers of aggravated parents due to the inability of kids to meet the higher expectations of their families?

I suspect these higher scores are a reflection of an unhealthy connection parents have with their kids. For many parents, their happiness is too closely aligned with how well their kids behaved in school or performed in some activity. They are too enmeshed in their kids’ lives, and thus overreact if things do not go as expected.

I thought about using the Google autocomplete function to do more research, but for fun I typed in “psychologist” and autocomplete came up with “idiots” and “crazy” as common terms!  Perhaps I should return to my scientific journals.

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