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How your teens research

Kids today don’t need a ride to the library to research their big paper. So much information — from studies to full book texts — is available digitally, making research easier but also trickier.

Knowing how your kids research can help you teach them to be responsible digital citizens.

Schools today are teaching students to how to select, use and cite information from the web. “Teachers want their students to access digital resources that are reputable and accurate. They don’t want students pulling information from crowd-sourced sites like Wikipedia. Teachers train their students how to distinguish between reputable and sketchy websites,” says Jessica Bayliss, director of education for Education Portal. “Teachers also train their students to cite all information. In the digital age, it’s easy to copy and paste information without attribution, and it’s important for teachers to educate students about plagiarism and attribution.”

Even so, as a parent you should know about digital research — and what it means for how kids are researching today. “One great thing about the evolution of the web, is that there are so many tools that students have access to in order to do safe, responsible research,” says Laura Rebecca, a freelance writer and educational media consultant. “There are several free curated search engines, such as Sweet Search, as well as bibliography and note-taking tools like EasyBib and Citelighter.”

Making smart source choices

Not sure how to tell a legit site from one that isn’t? Rebecca says to first look for the author of the website. “If no author can be found, it’s an immediate red flag. Also, look at the publisher of the site: If you see an article on without an author, you can let that slide because the publisher, CNN, is a reputable news agency. If you don’t recognize the name of the publisher, do a Google search,” says Rebecca.

A search can shed light on the website — and any nefarious intentions. “My students and I once did a class web search on Martin Luther King Jr. after investigating the publisher of a site that looked legitimate, only to find they were a white supremacist organization,” says Rebecca.

Good digital citizenship

It’s extremely important that teens understand that information on the internet has to be cited same as any other source. “Have that conversation about plagiarism too. Just because someone else put words and ideas on the internet for you to see doesn’t give you the right to pass them off as your own: Give credit where credit is due,” says Rebecca.

But, teens — and their parents — should also be aware of digital security. Same as you wouldn’t give out your social security number to just anyone asking for it, teens should be careful about where they input their personal information. “Parents must understand the implications of entering personal information to websites and educate their kids about how to access firewalled material safely and responsibly,” says Bayliss.

Talk about it, and set standards for when it’s OK to input information — and when they should click away or ask first.

“The most important thing for parents to do is educate themselves. By throwing up your hands and saying ‘these kids are more computer-savvy than I am!’ isn’t taking responsibility; you’ve just got to know what’s out there,” says Rebecca. “Talk to other parents and your child’s teachers; many schools are more than happy to conduct seminars for parents on how their kids use the internet in school. They would rather you be aware than not be!”

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