If This Is Your Child?

Our response to a question is often shaped by our perspective. Brian Butler shared the following on Facebook:

Point of View -Parents

While addressing parents at a School Coffee to address the issue of bullying and kids being mean to one another at an elementary school,  administrators asked the hundreds of parents gathered two questions.

Question 1:
At this school has your child ever been bullied, had another child say a mean or unkind word to them, and/or been treated as if they were less important by another child (excluded from an activity, looked down upon, gossiped about etc.)? Raise your hand and please look around.

Almost 100% of the parents raised their hands!

Now the school administrators asked the parents this question.

Question 2
At this school has your child ever bullied, said a mean or unkind word, and/or treated another child as if they were less important (excluded from an activity, looked down upon, gossiped about etc.)? Raise your hand and please look around.

Almost no hands went up?

Two years ago, when the Philippine congressman started a discussion on whether the age of criminal liability should be lowered to nine years of age, the Ateneo de Manila University issued a statement against the proposal. That statement came with an image of a child behind bars with a hashtage #ChildrenNotCriminals. That image has resurrected in social media, but this time, with an additional question, "What if this is your child?" Supporters of the proposed bill, not to be outwitted, used the same image, but this time, with a slightly different question, "What if you or your child is the victim of this child?"

These questions are illustrative of how bias can affect an individual's response. In these cases, it is likewise important to consider statistical significance. Criminal offenses committed by children are much lower in both percentage as well as absolute numbers compared to crimes adults commit. Yet, a question like this directed to a general population does not take into account the fact that the respondent is very likely neither a parent who has a child in conflict with the law nor a parent who has been a victim or whose child has been a victim of another child offender. In a survey, the quality of information really depends on what questions we ask and whom we ask. A question that starts with "What if" is already problematic. It is hypothetical. 

There are plenty of reasons why data is not just a multiple of anecdotes. And if we are not careful, we may be basing important policies or even laws on mere perception and not evidence.