16

I want to teach my kids how to use search engines as soon as they start asking questions. I think it's a good way for them to learn everything they want and to know that they are capable of knowing everything. I would like them to learn to try to find out things by themselves before asking me how to do something or what something means. Of course, when they can't figure something out I will help them immediately.

Is it good to teach a young kid to use search engines like Google? Or should I teach them when they're older?

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    I am surprised: my kids started asking questions basically as soon as they could talk - which was way before they could read. – Stephie Apr 29 '15 at 11:57
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    This is a great idea. I would also teach them all a bunch of different ways like using the dictionary. A young kid doesn't need to understand everything or even reading. Just seeing you browse, looking at picture will amaze them. – the_lotus Apr 29 '15 at 14:34
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    My wife just tried to clean the iron with toothpaste "because they said so on the internet". If an adult is unable to discern truth from crap how could a child! It should be the opposite of what you say. They should ask you first, and if you don't know the answer you can look for it together. – algiogia Apr 29 '15 at 15:13
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    you should learn to use search engines to find truths that you can than translate into a kid-friendly context. Q: how can birds fly? A: (aerodynamics) because they're light and go really fast! – hownowbrowncow Apr 29 '15 at 18:47
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    @hownowbrowncow "go really fast" nope. Especially nope with hummingbirds. – bjb568 Apr 30 '15 at 3:48
18

Before the days of the internet, parents tended to have a kind of God-like image in their child's mind and would be trusted to provide the right answers on a range of random topics that the child would be curious about. I often wonder how this works now with answers and information that is so easily accessible to everyone.

I think part of the answer to this is that the parents still have an important role to play in teaching their child how to find the information that they are looking for. Teaching kids how to use search engines from a very young age may be more complicated than it seems. There are various difficulties in searching for information online:

  1. The child would need to be able to read, type and spell reasonably accurately which likely comes after the most intensive phase of "why" questions.
  2. It's not always easy to know which terms to put into a search to get the information you need (although probably easier than it used to be). The child may be more prone to putting in excessive peripheral words, without putting in the most important word to get the right answer.
  3. Once the results appear, the child needs to know which sources are likely to be trustworthy and will give them the correct information - this probably can come best with supervised experience.
  4. Similar to point 3, it can be difficult to know how deal with information overload when thousands of results come up - the child needs to know how to assimilate a few sources of information into something useful. This takes quite a level of comprehension which probably cannot be easily achieved by very young children.

If your child manages to overcome all the obstacles to get a good result, I would think one of the disadvantages of using search engines as a first step would be that it doesn't encourage the child to think or work things out for themselves. My preferred approach, although my child is not old enough yet, would be to have a discussion about the question before heading to the internet for an answer. Talk about what the possible answers might be, why one might be more likely than another and then afterwards, have a look online for further information. If the kids become too reliant on the internet, they could end up using it for everything and then they will have trouble when they need to work something out for themselves.

On the other hand, searching for information online is a skill that will be needed in the modern world so it is important to teach and practise it to a moderate extent within your child's general learning.

Finally, as the other answers have said, it's important that the child uses the internet in a safe way and precautions taken to prevent them coming across things they shouldn't and they would still need to be supervised fairly closely.

  • "I often wonder how this works now with answers and information that is so easily accessible to everyone." Now the parent/child roles are reversed ;) – bjb568 Apr 30 '15 at 3:51
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    Not to forget that the question-answer thing plays an extremely important role in the build-up of the relationship between parents and children. Leaving this entirely to search engines would probably seriously harm the social competences of the children. – Patric Hartmann Apr 30 '15 at 10:28
19

One of our jobs as parents is teaching; using the internet to help with this task is fine, but before you do, teach them how to be safe when they're online. Teach your kids about online safety (posting/chatting in threads or forums, responding to contact requests, how to safely use passwords, keeping personal information safe and secure). It's never too soon for that, and if you want to turn 'em loose on the online universe, they'll need those skills sooner rather than later.

Also, consider having them use a kid-safe search engine, to keep them from innocently wandering into the nastier swamps of the internet when you're not around. Our first-grader uses SafeSearchKids for her online searching; it skips some of the results that might come up with regular Google when they search for something that seems innocuous to them but won't be on the internet.

I hate to say this, but honestly, it depends on the child. Some children will take to that like a duck to water when they're barely old enough to find the letters on the keyboard, and some will take longer. However, I STRONGLY suggest that you supervise them closely until you're confident that they know what to do and NOT to do on the internet*.

*Considering that some people have NEVER gained those skills, prepare yourself for a long haul.

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    I think it's also important to teach that not everything you find on the internet is going to be true. There are plenty of adults who haven't figured that one out yet. – David K Apr 29 '15 at 17:39
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    Considering that some people have NEVER gained those skills, prepare yourself for a long haul. Yes, but on the other hand, how old are these some people? – Mason Wheeler Apr 29 '15 at 20:35
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    Get them an ipad too. They don't just openly run executables so the probability of a foolish click resulting in an unusable computer filled with popups and keyloggers stealing your bank info is a decent deal less. – Kai Qing Apr 29 '15 at 22:43
  • I disagree with the concept behind a large part of this question. The presumption that the internet is going to jump out and harm our children if they just click on something. Yes there are places on the internet I wouldn't want a child to be, there are places I wouldn't want me to be, but unless you actively go looking for them your not going to stumble on them. There are not sexual predators looking in ever chat room like media would claim. The kid needs to know not all information is accurate and verify, but that is enough. You can't shelter your kids from the world anyways. – dsollen Apr 30 '15 at 13:01
  • @dsollen My Grandparents have a computer they use exclusively for making devotional prayer videos for a blog and reading similar blogs. Yet, every month I have to clean up after 4-10 malware programs when I visit. I think you underestimate how easy it is for someone innocent to stumble upon nasty areas of the internet. – Rick Apr 30 '15 at 17:21
16

My son is 8, and I haven't taught him to use google yet, despite him having his own computer, but I have shown him many times.

My main reason is that getting a good result on a general search engine is a relatively difficult skill. Getting a result on an appropriate level for an 8 year-old is even more difficult, especially on topics that schools typically wait to teach until middle school, which is a lot of interesting science and history nowadays.

The other reason is he still has problems formulating questions in a way a general search engine could understand. For example, a couple days ago he was using some astronomy software and asked me, "Why is Venus going into the sun?" A search engine has no hope of interpreting that, but a parent can, with some clarifying questions. He meant, "Why does Venus have phases?"

What I have taught him is how to use single-purpose single-site search engines, like the minecraft wiki and dictionary.com. This greatly increases his odds of actually finding a useful result. When it gets to a point where results relevant for his development start showing up on the first page of google, with a query he would think of, then I'll start expecting him to learn to do it on his own.

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    Adding to yours - Discriminating good from bad sources is our current challenge @ age 8 as well, and using the single-site searches helps by introducing those as trustworthy sites and trying to explain why (for instance, we looked at how there were many Minecraft wikis, but one is official and contains more up to date info than the others - so he learns to use this search, plus learns some clues to indicate why this is the superior source). – Saiboogu Apr 29 '15 at 14:12
9

There are a few obstacles:

  • Ability to read, write, and spell. Even a first- or second-grade student who's pretty good at reading and writing may struggle to input an unfamiliar word or spelling. Search engines can guess did you mean [word]?, which may or may not be what they were actually trying to learn about. Search engines often now can use voice input instead of typed, but the accuracy of those can be amusingly bad. My seven-year-old invented a game called "Confuse Google," where he asks it questions and laughs hysterically at what it searches for instead. It is funny, but it isn't useful for actually learning.

    Also, hit results have to be read by the searcher — and most kids won't be able to independently interpret a highly scientific Wikipedia article about plants.

  • The internet is often wrong. Search engines typically do a decent job of putting accurate information up towards the top of a result list. However, not even Wikipedia is a perfect resource (it can be sabotaged or biased), and there are plenty of incredibly incorrect resources (some well-meaning but misinformed, some satire) that most kids don't have the necessary background to distinguish from reputable, informative resources.

  • The internet isn't always available. While smartphones and tablets are expanding the area in which you can Google an answer, there will always be moments when a question get asked and it can't be searched for at a particular time. (Car rides. Restaurants. Grandma's house. The park.) The attention span of kids is fairly short, and they'll often not bother remembering little questions for later when they are net-connected again.

What our family does is write down questions that come up in the car or when running errands, and then look them up together later. As parents, we answer to the best of our ability. If we don't know, we are willing to say, "Hmmm, that's interesting, I don't know. Let's write it down so we can look it up later." Later, we all search for it together (sometimes as part of the "Confuse Google" game) and so I get to learn along with the kids.

I think an additional advantage of using the parent as the initial resource for questions, beyond helping filter answers so they are age-appropriate and comprehensible, is gaining an understanding of what your kids are interested in. My son was asking a lot of questions about plant biology one month, and that eventually led to a present of some pots, soil, and bean seeds so he could explore the process himself. My daughter had dozens of questions about a history topic that had been touched on briefly in class, and we ended up watching a lot of interesting related documentaries with her. Search engines can be a decent starting point, but look for opportunities to expand lessons beyond webpages.

6

I strongly Agree with Vaylkyrie's answer that you need to teach online safety above all. But as an addition: teach them by showing them!
They ask something you don't know right off your head? Take them along on the way to figure it out. Also, don't limit that to online search.
If you have a book that may cover the topic, go find the book, and see if the answer there. If you want to search online, get your kid onto your lap in front of the computer, and search.

Warning, though: that will dispel the illusion that "Daddy knows EVERYTHING"! PS: Because of the quiet good question in the comment: that was really just a side-note. Also, it may be replaced by "Daddy can FIND everything"! :)

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    Well it's probably a whole other question, but why would you even want your kid to have this illusion? – Micha Sprengers Apr 29 '15 at 12:28
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    It is a whole different question, yep. And I am not really sure if thinking that their parents know everything is good or bad for a kid, or up to what age it is good or bad (FAR too deep psychology going on there, I feel). I just wanted to point out that it may be a side effect. Going to add a small edit :) – Layna Apr 29 '15 at 12:33
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    It probably is a whole other question, but my $0.02 - That illusion can be pleasant and harmless. And in my experience, teaching them how to teach themselves - search and research, etc - doesn't dispel the illusion. Whether you spoonfeed info or the tools to discover info, you're still introducing them to a wonderful world. – Saiboogu Apr 29 '15 at 14:10
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    To be fair, some of the best memories I have of being very young were sitting on my dad's lap and seeing him work magic on the computer box. So don't think that just because dad can use this cool tool to find all the answers that the mysticism of parents will be vanished. – Zibbobz Apr 29 '15 at 15:49
6

There are 3 things to be concerned about when thinking about teaching your children about how to use search engines:

  1. Safety
  2. Self-sufficiency
  3. 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.

The Process

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 "silver foxes".

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.

2

I'm an elementary computer teacher and I start with search engines in kindergarten. At this age they need a LOT of help so I have our browsers (Chrome) set to load up the Google search page when the browsers are opened, and from there we do simple things. "Type in the word dog and hit the enter key", "Now click on the 3rd link down", etc. I also show them the difference between getting to sites, images, and videos in Google. While most of them can't do too much without direct guidance, some of them catch on fast and start searching on their own.

Keep in mind it helps to do basic browser navigation stuff with the kids first. And Internet safety, of course...

  • Do you run into the problem that "the third link down" might vary from computer to computer? Afaik Google does not order their results in this way. – Wilson Apr 26 at 11:24

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