Parenting: Children and internet research

Thursday, May 03, 2012

My 10-year-old son had a research project for school, and just as I was about to offer my assistance, he said "That's okay dad, I'll just Google the information." Boy have things changed!

Not long ago, doing research, or gathering information meant a visit to the library, now it all can be done on a laptop computer. I remember how I would have to wade through stacks and stacks of reference books, encyclopedias and old news articles at the library. Today, it's just a few clicks on the internet.

Students can find just about anything on-line from last night's sports scores, pre-written essays to helpful information for researching a project for social studies. With so much information available to children, there are also risks: like trying to discern which data, source or site is reputable. For many young researchers, that can be a tough task and parents must help them to become savvy and smart.

Experts say today's students must not only be careful when surfing the web for research but they must also learn to practice caution in their choice of websites. Parents should always keep a watchful eye because not all sites present factual information and not all of them are reputable or appropriate.

If and when your child turns to the web to find information, here are some things to remember, according to the National Education Association:

1. Don't believe everything you read. As one education expert put it: "just because the words are on the page, or on-line, doesn't mean those words are true." It's always important to cross-reference everything. I've managed to develop a critical eye for what is fact and what is fiction on the internet, and I'm trying to help my son do the same.

2. A reputable site should have an author with credibility and authority in the field. Anyone can create a website, and post anything they want but that doesn't mean the information is factual. Even the popular website Wikipedia (which often doesn't have an author) can sometimes present incorrect information. In fact many teachers say Wikipedia shouldn't be used for more than preliminary learning.

3. Find credible sources. This is where parents can help, by identifying for the child a variety of reputable sources of information, like newspaper websites. One website I've found helpful in the past is Parents should also help youngsters find search engines that are kid-friendly - some were even created with children in mind.

Certainly learning to use the internet for research is a process. Until your child becomes internet savvy, he or she will need your help trying to filter through information that is credible, legitimate and appropriate.

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