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Computers: Teens

Teenagers using a laptop

Your challenge: help your teen understand that digital content can be useful or easy-to-locate as well as misleading or unreliable. This may be tricky if your teen has the best technical skills of anyone in your household. Still, you don't need to be a computer genius to help your teen "navigate messiness," as the Center for Children and Technology puts it.

Eventually your teen will see there is no single authority for information; to make sense of a topic, he must sift through many sources. It's not enough to quote a source or to declare, "I read it online so it must be true" or “I saw this same information posted by dozens of people within a social network.” To form independent opinions, he must wrestle with ideas — and where these ideas come from.

6 Ways to Make the Most of Online Information

  1. Encourage your teen to question all digital resources.
    Have your teen ask: Where does this information come from? How does this website's information (text, images, overall look and feel) shape my understanding? What is the point of view? What information is missing? Are certain people or opinions not represented? Is somebody trying to sell me something?
  2. Talk to your teen about the type — and source — of online information.
    Click on "About Us" and other kinds of "Who We Are" links; these offer background information about websites and apps for smart phones and e-readers. Talk to your teen about the gap between facts that can be proven and statements that lack proof. You might ask: What research is available to back up that position? How do you know that?
  3. Have teens visit multiple sources about the same topic.
    A side-by-side comparison of websites can reveal the limits of a site and expose its bias. It may also disclose the site's sponsors, and how they might have shaped the content, whether that content takes the form of information, a faux status update or a game.
  4. Talk to your teen about the gap between how something looks and whether it can be trusted.
    Sleek does not mean solid: A well-designed site is no guarantee of reliable information. Help your teen understand that website and app developers can produce sharp design, clear navigation and persuasive testimonials without offering accurate content.
  5. Arm your teen with fact-checking resources.
    Sites that debunk urban legends can help dispel rumors quickly repeated in social networks, claims too good to be true and "news" of alleged computer viruses. Enter "urban legend" or "urban myth" into a search engine such as Google and check the Virus Hoax area of Symantec's Anti-Virus Research Center.
  6. Encourage your teen to be skeptical about health information on the Web.
    Health factoids — quick, factual snippets found on the Web — can be convenient, but they often lack context or background. Help your teen examine health topics: Rather than settling for the first answer to a search query, visit a variety of sources and weigh multiple points of view.
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