Before the internet, where did children go for information? Encylopaedia Britannica? Their teacher? A library? When I was growing up, my mother painstakingly collected newspaper stories and museum guides for ‘the project cupboard’, which my three siblings and I dipped into when we had a homework assignment. Nothing beat that feeling of stumbling on a yellowed clipping that fitted the bill and I was eternally grateful to Mum for her diligence. But what role do parents play now in helping their kids with homework? In the age of the internet, are they redundant?
A 10-year study of the impact of broadband on children was released today by Virgin Media. Led by social psychologist Geoff Beattie from the University of Manchester, the study involved a series of experiments with 13-year-olds and their parents, looking at what makes the ‘broadband generation’ different.
‘Who is the richest man in the world today?’ Beattie asked his guinea pigs. ‘The parents looked uncomfortable,’ he says. ‘They were looking for reassurance from their kids, the digital gurus. While the kids tended to come back with the correct response, Carlos Slim Helu, the parents had neglected to type “2010″ into their search, and so came up with the incorrect answer, Bill Gates. It didn’t matter if the kids had never heard of Slim, they had total trust in the computer’s answer.’
Parents spend more time questioning an answer, but the broadband generation are more likely to put their faith in Google’s search results. ‘Technologically, parents might not be on the same wavelength as their children, but they have a huge responsibility in teaching them that the most popular answer is not necessarily the truth,’ says Beattie. With the rise of content being published under the guise of ‘guru’ and ‘qualified expert’, kids are at risk of imbibing a wealth of incorrect information.
‘Teachers and parents aren’t the “gate-keepers” of information anymore, but they can help children evaluate and de-code what’s out there,’ says Beattie. And ‘out there’ is a good way to describe a lot of content on the web.