There are 3 things to be concerned about when thinking about teaching your children about how to use search engines:
- Effects on memory
One - Safety
I'll start this with an anecdote.
Back in approximately 2000-2001 was when I first started using the Internet, because we finally had a home computer with Internet access. Back then, I was a huge fan of MegaMan games, and the Sprites community that existed around the games.
So, it was only natural for me to use the search term "MegaMan".
While the majority of searches returned what I was looking for, it wasn't always easy to tell what a site contained based on the short descriptions and titles. Some of the top results were actually for male erotica.
These days, search engines, notably Google, offer a SafeSearch filter that is pretty good and removing such material, but it's not perfect. It's important to turn on, because even innocuous searches can turn up inappropriate material. Aside from my MegaMan example, I've recently discovered that doing a Google Image search for "dogs" and "dog faces" with the filter off can return pictures of grotesquely abused animals, horrible caging scenarios, "dog meat" images, and frightening images of dogs looking like they're attacking. These are not images I want my child to see at this age.
Since you can't rely solely on filtering, you'll have to teach your child safe search habits. Search for specific terms, be suspicious of links without descriptions that clearly match, don't click on links if it doesn't seem right. Additionally, some search engines will warn you if a site has been compromised, so avoid those sites.
There are options such as black/white lists you can set up through your router, and monitoring software. However, none of those solutions are effective outside of your home computer set up, so I'd focus on teaching your child safe browsing habits.
Two - Self-Sufficiency
It used to be, if you wanted to know something then you had to ask someone who already knew, or go get a book that might have the answer in it.
Now, anyone from pretty much anywhere can type in their query and get an answer. It's absolutely wonderful.
And, it's an important skill to have. Personally, I often get asked simple questions about topics I'm in no way an expert in. However, I've developed a reputation for knowing things. I try to explain to people that one of the reasons I can get answers so quickly is because I have strong Google-Fu. It sometimes frustrates me that I get treated as a personal, live Google, when they have they same opportunity to get the answers as I do.
There is a drawback to having all these answers out there for us:
They're not all right or even good answers.
So, you'll have to teach your child about verifying information they find. Check sources, find corroboration. It's unfortunately the way of many people to just accept the first answer they receive (see: The Woozle Effect or The Theory of Argumentative Reasoning for explanations as to why people continue to believe incorrect things).
This is incredibly important life skill, and should be taught regardless of your search engine education.
Three - Memory
Having free access to all the information you could want can have some drawbacks. One small study found that when you just thought you'd be able to save some information in a computer file that your recall was lower compared to when you had to learn the new information without saving it. Here's a Wired article about the study.
There's a hypothesis that when our brains can memorize where to find the information, they don't prioritize remembering the information itself. If you have speed dial, do you bother remember your contact's phone number or just their speed dial number? Do you remember someone's email address, or just their name after your e-mail client saves it?
I believe there's truth to that hypothesis. If Google becomes your first source of information, you're not encouraging yourself to retain that information. As such, I would suggest not encouraging search engine use as a first response. Instead, encourage your children to seek out other sources, and come to you for help.
I don't see any reason from keeping a child from about 8-years-old on up from using search, and that's around the age where they'd start doing some light research-type homework (at least it was for me). It's going to be a big part of their life, and good search skills are beneficial. I don't think younger children need to know about Internet search engines, but they should probably know how to search in general. For instance, they may not have access to the full Internet, but maybe they have access to your streaming service. Searching Netflix/Hulu/etc. is an example of other types of searching. This will largely depend on your other choices regarding your child's exposure to screen time, the Internet, and technology.
I would first introduce your child to searching as a collaborative effort. If there's a question you don't know the answer to, or you want to know more, then I would search together with your child. That way, your child sees not only what kinds of things to search for, but the method you use to do it. It's a quick way to illustrate keyword searching vs. whole question searching. You can show teach them some search engine features that may come in handy at that time, too.
For instance, if you want only to learn about silver foxes, but
silver foxes keeps turning up information about red foxes as well, you can demonstrate
silver foxes -red foxes or
After you've taught them these basics and they've grown accustomed to using search engines, you can slowly have the child search on their own. If you're not available, and it's a question you believe is safely "searchable", then you can let them know to search for it. At that time, you can suggest terms you think might be helpful to them.
You can always monitor their progress, and give them guidance when they're having difficulty, or warnings when they're heading down a questionable search term path.