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The Online Mom provides internet technology advice and information to help parents protect their kids, encourage responsible behavior and safely harness the power of technology in the new digital world. Social networking, photo sharing, video games, IM & texting, internet security, cyberbullying, educational resources, the latest on tech hardware, gadgets and software for kids 3-8, tweens and teens, and more.

Who's Teaching Your Kids About The Internet?

By Terri Hunter-Davis

Good question…but one that's not quite so easy to answer. Generally speaking, Internet instruction today isn't terribly different from sex education 20 years ago: Your kids may learn some basics in the classroom, some from you, some from the TV — and then they fill in the rest from other kids!

Most schools have introduced formal computer instruction in their curricula, either district-wide or individually. But that instruction most often focuses on operational use — from basic keyboarding to software proficiency. Many schools also often allow third-graders and beyond to access the Internet on school computers, either in the classroom or in extended care programs. And there is broad awareness of the need to teach children how to safely surf the Web.

But even as the Internet is relied upon increasingly as a research tool, it is difficult to find teaching guidelines — or districts using them — that instruct children how to use this immense resource: how to find information online and how to distinguish valid data from bias and fiction. The U.S. Department of Education lists nothing in its online resources on teaching Internet usage. Nor does the California Department of Education — the state that famously is home to Silicon Valley. Neither public nor private schools are immune.

It's not the library

Many teachers do instruct their young students in the basics of Internet research, as they cover other aspects of more general research. But using the Internet is much more complex than going to the library and looking up something in the encyclopedia. The sheer volume of content on the Internet overwhelms adults, let alone children. And the toughest concept for tweens to grasp is that unlike in the library, much of online content is not factual. They aren't necessarily equipped to see the difference between a blog entry on George W. Bush and an encyclopedia entry.

So as your parents patiently helped you sift through the World Book and Encyclopedia Britannica, expect to help your child sift through page after page of Google results as he or she tackles that first research paper and beyond. You'll likely be the one who raises the first red flag against relying on the "sponsored results," and teaches them not to blindly trust Wikipedia.

Unexpected results

Parents may find it difficult to strike the right balance between letting a child do research with some level of independence and monitoring usage. (And that's not even accounting for a sneak visit to Club Penguin when it's homework time!) Teach your child to find real sites through search engines, even if she thinks she knows the right URL for a site. Why? Ask anyone who not so long ago accidentally added the .com suffix to www.whitehouse instead of .gov. Now it's a site devoted to news on the presidential campaign, but it once featured scantily clad and suggestively posed models. Not the sort of site you want popping up on your work screen — or in front of your child's innocent eyes.


If schools aren't providing formal curricula for teaching Internet usage, to what can they turn? We found one resource through AT&T Knowledge Ventures. Their site on "Strategies and Resources for Using the Internet Effectively in the Classroom" offers a set of modules that will "provide teachers with a basic foundation of using the Internet and also examine strategies and resources in which they can effectively use it with their students." While the module on Internet basics is perhaps too basic, the others — on effective Web searches and resources, Web site evaluation, Internet curriculum and strategies for using the Internet in the classroom — provide tips for teaching students the basics of using the Internet for educational purposes.

CyberSmart!, a technology curriculum developer for grades K-8, includes units on advertising and research strategies in its Internet curriculum, as well as safety, manners and history of the medium. CyberSmart's site provides links to a fact sheet as well as a brief online presentation for each unit.

One thing is certain: Just as the Internet is constantly changing and evolving, our schools' approach to teaching how to use it will also evolve. Look for The Online Mom to revisit this subject very soon….

Terri Hunter-Davis is a veteran writer, editor and designer in both print and online media. Her areas of expertise include family, lifestyle and shelter topics. Terri lives in San Francisco with her husband and increasingly tech-savvy 6- and 10-year-old daughters.

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