Today’s Tech-Savy Kids Don’t Actually Trust The Internet — or Alexa

There’s a lot of anxiety about kids and technology these days, and while parents can do things like limit screen time, they can’t fully remove their kids from the 21st century. Whether we like it or not, kids are going to be able to grow up to rely on very advanced computers in their pockets to do everything from map their drive home to keep track of grocery lists and solve complex math equations. But that doesn’t mean we’re inevitably raising little drones that can’t think for themselves. A new study actually found that kids don’t trust the internet as much as you might think.

Titled, wordily, “Who Do I Believe?: Children’s Epistemic Trust in Internet, Teacher and Peer Informants,” published recently in The Journal of Cognitive Development, the study gave children conflicting information. Their teachers told them one thing, and the internet told them another. The researchers found that children between the ages of five and eight trusted their teachers in an overwhelming majority. Adults, on the other hand, were more likely to trust the internet — yes, including good old Alexa.

While the study was done in China, Canadian researchers are finding similar things. The Canadian Broadcasting Corproation, which reported on the Chinese study, also spoke with Matthew Johnson, director of education for Media Smarts.

“Children see teachers as being just as important a source of information and guidance in our age of information overload as they did when information was scarce,” he told CBC. Johnson also found that kids are likely to turn to a teacher for help researching and verifying things online.

But that doesn’t mean we’re raising a generation that will be immune to deepfakes and election tampering through Facebook. The study’s authors point to the fact that the adults surveyed were more likely to trust the internet over a teacher; they list a number of possible reasons, including seeing the internet as more reliable than a mere fallible human. But the authors also posit that children might just lack an understanding of how vast the internet is, and how it can hold the answer to nearly any question.

In other words, researchers predict kids will lose their internet skepticism as they age — just as they will also inevitably rely on technology and the internet more. If we want to make sure they don’t put all their faith in technology, parents and teachers are going to have to step in to teach media literacy as well. 

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