Remember when you needed to find the answer to a burning question — maybe for a homework assignment or to settle a dispute — and you had to mosey on over to the bookshelf, finger through the encyclopedia volumes until you found the right one, and then flip it open to scan the pages for the right alphabetical listing, hoping you’d be lucky enough to find an entry? Inevitably, when I had procrastinated too long on a homework assignment, I’d find that Doh! the encyclopedia volume I needed had gone missing, or didn’t have what I needed, and the library was already closed. Argh. I had to hope that my parents, or maybe an older sibling, would know the answer.
Kids these days … they’ve got all the information in the world right at their fingertips, on their handy dandy iPhones and tablets and computers. And apparently, last night, many of them were using them as they watched the Million Dollar Money Drop game show, Googling to find the answers to questions like “Who is on the dime?” and “How many states touch the Pacific Ocean?” and “Big Mac ingredients.”
There was big money at stake. And, I would argue that there’s something even bigger at stake here.
Our kids are growing up in a world of instantaneous information. And not all of it is good. Still, they’re looking for answers online. So, what do we parents need to teach them about finding the right answers? Probably the same things many of our own parents taught us. For starters: Don’t believe everything you read. Even when you think it’s from a reputable source, do your research. Case in point: This week, many of us were quick to jump on Amy Chua, author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, thanks to a Wall Street Journal article boldly entitled “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior.” Only later did we find out that the WSJ may have misrepresented Chua, as she now claims. The poor woman is getting death threats (and, granted, selling a lot of books) thanks to all the controversy. And here’s the thing: How many of the journalists and people commenting all over the Internet actually had time to read Chua’s book before sharing their thoughts and opinions and alleged facts? In the age of the 24/7 news cycle, where 10 o’clock’s news is a yawn by 11 o’clock, I’m guessing that 99% of the people writing about Chua had not read the book.
Back in the day, books and magazines and encyclopedias were fact-checked and edited, many times over, before being printed. The idea of Web content that’s been fact-checked, let alone edited, is almost laughable these days. But, this is what our Googling kids are reading. This is where they’re going for answers for trivial matters, for homework, and for life. Yikes.
So yes, we need to be vigilant about their Internet usage. And, yes, we need to teach them how to find reputable, trusted sources of information. But the biggest lesson we can teach our kids growing up in the age of instantaneous information is no different than it was generations ago: Don’t believe everything you read.
Maybe times haven’t changed that much after all.