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Today’s students memorize fewer facts because they are well aware that everything they’d need to know is online. To get the best of this sea change, your kids actually know how to find things. It’s not as simple as you might think, and kids need a lot of time to explore the Internet unfettered by parental advice.

This is because parents search differently than teens. And kids who don’t get to browse freely become outsiders in their own teen culture: they don’t feel a shared sense of where the good information is. (Oh, and also those kids hate their parents.)

A lot of search tactics are shaped by trust. That is, how your criteria for trustworthiness affects where you look for information. Here are the different types of criteria teens use for when searching online that their parents probably don’t:

Teens pay attention to social proof. Other generations have been influenced by a Coke ad on TV. But now kids want to see conversation about a product before they believe that it’s cool. And forget about that list of awards as a way to get your kids to go to your favorite show.  Teens require endorsement  from a real person who the teen admires – that’s the social proof kids look for before they’ll believe the show is good.

Teens trust reviews. If there are not a lot of reviews about a product or a company then the kids sense that no one is paying attention. Bad things happen in dark deserted alleys both offline and online. This site rating hosting services may look spammy to older people, but kids know the site is trustworthy because  the page is covered with reviews. Kids like reviews so much that the reviews become a product in themselves. Quartz wrote about The Magical World of Poorly Reviewed Harry Potter Products.

Teens trust word of mouth. Jay Baer reports that less than 50% of people over 30 use word of mouth to guide their purchases, but 86% of teens rely on word of mouth to make a purchasing decision. The extreme faith in people who are like you translates to a new kind of purchasing that is all word of mouth. For example, my kids found a Led Zeppelin light show via Reddit. And misterbandb is right on trend, presenting a gay-friendly list of places to stay via word-of-mouth from all over the world.

Teens hate Facebook. Teens think of Facebook as something people who don’t understand the Internet use. Kids have grown up watching Facebook screw over users time and again, and today only 9% of kids think Facebook is safe. Teens think even the advertisers on Facebook lie and they don’t even consider getting their news from Facebook.

Kids bolt when the content is bad. Teens have little patience for poorly written content. But their idea of poorly written is different from yours. They skip content that is long or hard to navigate. They know run academic writing through a plagiarism checker and they don’t post their resume until they run it through a site that scores each resume it finds.

Teens scoff at government publications. The government doesn’t give shortcuts, it doesn’t give the most recent news, and it doesn’t splurge for usability experts. So kids turn to unofficial sites to get the scoop on official business. For example check out this site to help Canadians get visas for India. Anyone can tell right away it’s not published by a government entity, but teens view a site like this as super trustworthy.

Teens are so over the mass market.  The youngest generation puts the most trust in the microinfluencers — people a cozy community of up to 50,000 followers. Which is why Hershey’s just paid a huge amount of money to sponsor kids who record themselves playing video games. That’s right. Your kid could be the next foodie influencer if you’d just let him have some more screen time.

9 replies
  1. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    I had a counselor once tell me I shouldn’t let my kids have unsupervised screen time because if they look up illegal things I or my husband could go to jail.

    I thought about this, and made a list of things that could send us to jail – buying drugs/weapons on the web? Eh, I have much bigger problems if they are doing that, then restricting internet use. That won’t solve those kinds of problems.

    Porn? Yeah, that problem makes me have uncomfortable conversations (for me) but the fact is porn will always be a part of their life, and just like my parents didn’t want to talk about birth control – I have to talk about porn.

    The only real concern I could come up with was child porn. I told my kids – don’t look at child porn because dad will get arrested and so could you. At which case they looked at me with such discuss and I was reminded of one simple rule: fear will make you forget the logical solution.

    Just like doing drugs – looking at that type of porn has so much more behind it than accidentally seeing it and liking it (vs two consenting adults having sex). It has trauma, abuse, and a whole mess of things. My kids aren’t going to be attracted to illegal things without a reason. I don’t need to focus on the fear of the internet, I need to focus on what is happening in the family to influence my kids searches, and there is not an app to monitor that.

    Reply
    • Joy
      Joy says:

      Because porn can mess up your personal relationships and skew your view of women, I’d recommend visiting https://fightthenewdrug.org with your kids, so they can see how it hurts you. The site was created by college students, which definitely ties in to what Penelope is saying here.

      Reply
  2. Elissa
    Elissa says:

    “Today’s students memorize fewer facts because they are well aware that everything they’d need to know is online. ” – I think that is really good. An opportunity to find everything I need on the web saved me a lot of megabytes in my memory.

    Reply
  3. Ann
    Ann says:

    I thought of this piece this weekend when a neighbour in his 80’s called to my Mother’s house. He was telling us about carrying a 5 hundredweight cement bags at once for a bet as a young man. My brother googled to find out what a hundredweight was in terms we could understand as it’s not used so commonly now. They were trying to one-up each other. The old man dismissed us as being stupid because we don’t bother trying to remember or work anything out manually anymore.
    I’ve just found you on Medium. I’m so late to the party there -it’s great though as I had already binge read all of your blogs.

    Reply
  4. Cate
    Cate says:

    My 13 yo was just complaining about school the other day, saying that “Why do we have to learn all this stuff? I can just look it up online. I have a computer in my pocket.”

    Learning so-called “useless” information does have a point – it sharpens your brain. More connections between synapses. This was the best explanation I could come up with to satisfy myself (not sure about him!).

    Reply
    • Elissa
      Elissa says:

      If you want your child to sharpen his brain why wouldn’t you give him something that would be interesting for him? I can recommend you implement gamification in an educational process.

      Reply
  5. Bostonian
    Bostonian says:

    Too many schools still rely heavily on memorization as the primary means of instruction. Thirty-plus kids sit passively in a squadron, listening as an angry teacher perorates on a theme, then going to home to read and commit to memory the next chapter in a vast committee-assembled tome so they can fill in the right bubbles next Friday.

    This has been the method for centuries. It’s still the universal method in many other countries, like Korea, which regularly leads rankings of school outcomes. Punish, memorize, cram, high stakes exam. Korean kids go to school 16 hours a day, plus Saturdays. Korean kids do math incredibly well, incredibly fast… and they also have the highest suicide rate in the developed world. Korea also sends the highest proportion of kids abroad to study, perhaps to get away from that system. I would, if I were Korean.

    My son went to a very traditional American school last year. It gave three to five hours of homework every night, all very repetitive and memorization-centric. Most of the kids he knew went to evening math classes, because they couldn’t keep up with class otherwise, and I know some parents did kids’ homework for them. The education was well-delivered and effective for those classes where memorization is a big part of the process, like Latin. It was sad and useless for those classes where inquiry and debate should be central to the process, like English and History.

    This year my son is at a progressive private school, and class couldn’t be more different. History proceeds not by memorizing chapter after chapter in the mandated textbook, but by reading and discussing the most recent and fascinating works about the time period under study. Instead of coming home dispirited and burdened, he comes home excited and engaged.

    Part of how school succeeds in maintaining the relevance of its classes is by empowering its teachers. This takes support for genuine professional training and continuing education. An environment is created in which all members of the community are lifelong learners, so class plans get updated constantly as teachers learn new things. Teachers are given latitude to determine their focus, syllabus, projects and assessments. This results in a level of enthusiasm unknown at schools where the state or district determines what must be taught, and the teachers teach the same book year after year.

    Schools can respond to students’ changing needs in both content and form of learning and expression, but not if they’re chained to the decisions a committee of bureaucrats made decades ago.

    Reply
  6. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    Do kids today know how to find things that aren’t on the Internet? There are plenty of books, documents, newspapers, etc. that haven’t been digitized. I can imagine they would stare at microfilm or microfiche and wouldn’t know where to start. So it’s helpful to know where to look and who to ask for help beyond the Internet.

    Reply

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