Here, the stories that affected our lives and our kids' lives the most this year, from 'superior' Chinese mothers to tainted apple juice.
By Holly Lebowitz Rossi
Here's one thing most parents can agree on: there is no one right way to raise children. We are constantly tweaking, questioning, and adjusting to our growing, changing, challenging kids. What's more, we're adjusting to the constantly changing world -- the endless stream of warnings, recommendations, and philosophies put forth by so-called parenting experts. Read on to find out which big stories made our year-end list.
"Tiger Mother" Calls Parental Expectations into Question
What happened: Amy Chua, mother of two and author of "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother," started a debate about how much pressure parents should put on their children to succeed. Her book, which was excerpted in January in the Wall Street Journal, attempt to explain why Chinese children are stereotypically such high achievers in math, music, and more. Chua's description of strict discipline and unyielding standards sparked fierce debate over whether American parenting culture is too permissive. "What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you're good at it," Chua wrote, "To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences."
Why it's controversial: The debate was fierce in the media and in moms' groups across the country. Some said Chua was a "mean mom" whose sky-high expectations were unhealthy and damaging to her children, who could never hope to please her. Others countered that Chua's technique was a refreshing change of pace from the self-esteem-first, "everybody's a winner" paradigm of modern American parenting.
How it impacted your life: The "Tiger Mother" discussions -- in the media and at playgrounds alike -- opened the door to self-reflection over where your parenting style falls on the "Tiger" spectrum. For some of you, Chua's argument was permission to be "harder" on your kids without feeling like you're scarring them for life. For others, Chua's perspective only increased your commitment to giving your kids a broad definition of "success."
HPV Vaccine Debate Expands to Include Boys
What happened: Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the United States; at least half of sexually active people will get it at some point in their lives. In October, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidelines that recommend the HPV vaccine for boys between ages 11 and 21 as well as girls between ages 11 and 26. The American Academy of Pediatrics joined in the CDC's recommendation that boys be routinely vaccinated against HPV, citing research that states the vaccine may protect boys against cancers of the penis and rectum, as well as head and neck cancers that are believed to be caused by HPV. A factor in the new recommendation was the CDC statistic, also released this year, that just under half of girls had received even one of the three-part vaccine against the virus, which can cause cervical cancer.
Why it's controversial: At age 11, it's hard to imagine your child's sexual future, let alone plan for it. Some parents put it even more bluntly: shouldn't we be teaching abstinence rather than planning for promiscuity? On the other hand, what parent doesn't want to protect their child from a deadly disease? The debate took on further weight this year when Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry was challenged to defend his 2007 executive order requiring girls to receive the vaccine in Texas (the order was later rescinded). A swirl of misinformation about the safety of the vaccine followed, only confusing and upsetting parents more.
How it impacted your life: For parents of boys, the new recommendations brought you into a debate that you'd previously been able to ignore. And for all parents, the HPV debate became the main character in the two perennial issues of vaccine safety and sexuality.
Rear-Facing Car Seats Recommended Until Age 2
What happened: In March, the American Academy of Pediatrics, together with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, came out with new guidelines on car seat safety, recommending that children remain in rear-facing car seats until age 2, a change from the previous recommendation of 1 year. This was based on crash test data that showed young kids -- who have relatively large heads and small necks -- are less likely to get hurt in an accident if they are rear-facing.
Why it's controversial: Parents expressed immediate frustration at the difficulty they foresaw in adhering to the new standards. Tall kids in rear-facing seats would be uncomfortable, many feared, and as every parent knows, an uncomfortable toddler is an unhappy toddler. Every parent wants his or her child to be as safe as possible, and this recommendation left many feeling unable to do just that.
How it impacted your life: This recommendation sparked earnest discussions between many of you and your pediatricians -- and delayed the big car seat turnaround for some.
Arsenic in Your Apple Juice? Dr. Oz Raises Contamination Fears
What happened: Dr. Mehmet Oz, the well-known integrative physician with a daily health-themed television talk show, announced this fall that he had conducted an independent study of several apple juice brands and discovered trace amounts of the cancer-causing heavy metal arsenic in the products. Gerber, Motts, Minute Maid, Apple & Eve, and Juicy Juice were among the brands tested, all of which contained detectable arsenic. Most were within the 23 parts per billion allowed by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, though Oz urged the FDA to lower the allowable level to 10 parts per billion.
Why it's controversial: The FDA objected to Oz's measurement of "total arsenic" in his study, saying that its standards are based on distinguishing between organic and inorganic arsenic compounds. Juice companies also took exception to Oz's methods, especially Gerber, whose products were found to have the highest arsenic level (36 parts per billion). Parents were left to assess their family's juice choices amid the flurry of information and debate.
How it impacted your life: You got an education in heavy metals you never thought you'd need when pouring juice for your kids. And many of you took the opportunity to follow nutritionists' recommendations that kids curb their juice intake altogether, choosing whole fruits to eat and water to drink.
Physical Discipline Comes into the Spotlight
What happened: A number of vivid stories brought the issue of spanking and corporal punishment into focus in 2011. Perhaps the most discussed was the video posted this fall by 23-year-old Hillary Adams showing her as a teenager being cursed at and whipped with a belt by her father, a Texas judge. Among the other stories that made news:
- Alaskan mom Jessica Beagley was convicted of misdemeanor child abuse charges for squirting hot sauce in her 7-year-old son's mouth as a punishment.
- Three children whose parents had copies of a Tennessee pastor's pro-spanking book in their homes died after beatings. The parents of one of the children were convicted of homicide by abuse.
- A mother of three was sentenced in Texas to three years probation by a judge who said, "You don't spank children today."
Why it's controversial: The issue of whether to use physical techniques for disciplining children is always a divisive one. Many parents, especially conservative Christians who believe that spanking is biblically mandated, advocate corporal punishment. But confronted with the disturbing image of Adams' beating and the spate of deaths, the line between discipline and abuse is a renewed source of controversy and debate.
How it impacted your life: In the wake of these stories, many of you defended your family's decision to either use spanking or not, and especially your right to make that decision for yourselves -- within the boundaries of safety and the law, of course.
See More of the Parenting Controversies that Changed the Way We Raised Our Kids in 2011
This article first appeared on Parents.com.