08/29/2010 02:21 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Farewell to A Scold

by Caryl Rivers

The Great Scold of Radio is gone, and I say good riddance.

Dr. Laura Schlessinger announced she was leaving her popular radio show after three decades, following a controversy over her use of the "N Word" repeatedly on the air.

Dr. Laura was like your mean aunt, the one who disapproved of everything you did, and told you so in no uncertain terms. It didn't matter if she was right or wrong, or knew what she was talking about, she just let you have it.

She presented her conservative, 50s style ideas as "common sense" and ranted against those who disagreed. Anyone who heard the tape where she repeated the "N" word over and over and told a black female caller not to "NAACP me," got a glimpse of her attitudes on race. The caller wanted to discusses issues in her interracial marriage and got an earful of intolerance instead.

Kira Hudson Banks, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology at Illinois Wesleyan University, says the problem with Dr. Laura is beyond the words she was using. Writing in Psychology Today, Dr. Banks observes, "After the call ends, Dr. Laura is ranting and declares 'we have to be able to discuss these things. Discuss the issue.' Schlessinger completely ignores her own advice. "She shut the conversation down by being defensive, condescending and off-topic."

Dr. Banks points out "Cultural competence is not only a key aspect of psychology, but it is becoming a necessity for navigating our increasingly diverse society. Knowing our blind spots is key when it comes to sensitive topics such as race. And Dr. Laura appears to have some baggage to process before she is quick to invalidate another person's experience of racial discrimination."

But beyond this inexcusable instance of cultural blindness, Dr. Laura spread myth and misinformation over a wide swath of radioland. She routinely hectored working mothers, saying they ought to be at home with their children--despite the fact that she herself was a working mother for years. But she claimed she was always home with her children for most of the day. Too bad most working moms don't have million-dollar radio talk show jobs where the hours are so family friendly.

Many callers probably thought they were talking to a Ph. D in psychology when they called in to ask "Doctor" Laura" for advice. Not so. Dr. Laura is neither a psychologist nor a psychiatrist. Her doctorate is in physiology. (Ask her for a workout, but not for advice on your emotional life.) She is a licensed MFCC (Marriage, Family, Child Counselor), which requires far less training than psychotherapists must have. She is entitled to her opinions, of course, but they do not carry the weight of scientific research.

This was made abundantly clear by a team of psychologists from the University of Colorado who examined dr. Laura's best selling book, "Parenthood by Proxy: Don't Have Them If You Won't Raise Them. " The team of scholars, headed by Dr. Toni Zimmerman, found the book filled with stereotypes, formulaic advice and information that does not conform to research findings. They said that Dr. Laura was, in fact, upfront about her rejection of empirical social science evidence. Instead, she relied on anecdotes, newspaper articles, "experts" of her own choosing and mainly her own personal experiences.

Zimmerman and her colleagues contend that Schlesinger is interested in promoting traditional gender roles, conservative political ideas and the rejection of any family other than the breadwinner-dad and stay-at-home mom.
In doing so, she rejects as "harmful" the dual-earner family, which represents more than 60 percent of today's couples. She ignores research showing these couples to be happy, healthy and thriving.

Schlessinger says that children raised in any family that is not traditional will have "emotional handicaps and psychological dysfunction."

This statement is absurd on its face. Hardly any social scientists would endorse such a notion. Years of research, for example, show no significant difference in emotional and cognitive development between children of mothers who work and those who stay at home.
A major study in 2000 of a representative sample of 1,000 kids from third through 12th grades by Ellen Galinsky of the Families and Work Institute found that children gave their working parents high grades on a range of parenting skills. Importantly, the kids' views of their mothers did not differ, whether their mothers were employed or stayed at home.
Schlessinger often uses atypical scare stories about what happens when women work. For example, to illustrate her belief that dads can't care for kids, she tells the tale of a father who forgets to drop his toddler off at child care and leaves her in his car all day. (Never mind the reams of research showing that men can provide excellent care for children.)
To push her theory that all day care harms children, Schlessinger cites a news story about a child care center where an infant died. (No data confirms that good child care harms children. In fact, kids in high quality day care are safe and healthy and score well on cognitive skills.)

Setting up outdated models of the "ideal" family and offering advice more suited to the 1950s than to the present is, according to the Colorado researchers, "irrelevant at best and harmful at worst."

If parents read Dr. Laura's books, listen to her advice and take her stereotyped messages to heart, they may inadvertently harm their kids. Major studies have shown that when parents endorse gender stereotypes their children may become straitjacketed in their notions of what boys and girls are supposed to be like.

Dr. Laura's departure from radio, may, in fact, be a boon to the health of us all.