By the time I was 7, my parents looked like they could have been on a 10-dollar bill. Of course, once I sprouted a white hair one of my own, I realized that at least 60 percent of my folks’ stress lines and premature grey had to do with me asking “What?” “How?” or “Why?” a few thousand times a day. We want our kids to be curious and inquisitive, we want them to learn, but we don’t necessarily have the time, knowledge, or mental bandwidth to add “walking encyclopedia” to our parental duties.
Not to worry, actually, because the digital age has made this aspect of parenting, at least, much simpler. You just have to know how to safely wield the power of the interwebs to help your kids start finding those answers for themselves.
Google with a clear conscience
No need for feelings of guilt and anxiety in using the internet as a teaching tool; it is neither a cop-out nor lazy parenting. Teaching your kids to search for answers to their questions, regardless of medium, pays big dividends. It gets them the information they want, teaches them how to be self-sufficient, confident learners, and frankly it keeps you from having to make up bullshit-on-the-fly to pacify them.
There is a certain satisfaction in answering “What are stars made of?” by bellowing “STAR STUFF!” in your best Neil deGrasse Tyson voice, then dropping a couple verses of your own B.o.B diss track — but that’s not necessarily helping is it? Instead, teach your kids to use the search the new-fashioned way.
The fact is while kids should certainly know how to navigate libraries and analog reference materials, their worlds will be digital. They need to know how to navigate the internet, and much like math, reading, or second languages, the earlier they start, the better.
Enable Google Safesearch
The hip part about encyclopedias and dictionaries is that it’s pretty much impossible for little eyes to stumble upon less-than-savory content or little fingers accidentally adding 74 enema kits to your Amazon Now shopping cart.
Not to worry, with Google’s handy dandy safe search feature you can keep your kiddos relatively safe from accidentally clicking your iffy-ass search history. The real pro tip: set your kids up on a completely different browser that doesn’t have any history, bookmarks, passwords, or credit card numbers stored. For example, if you’re a Chrome person, set the kids up on Firefox or on the true kiddie ride, Safari. Build them a Google account, crank up the parental controls to the max, and off they go.
Jot multiple questions down, then plan a time to answer them in bulk
Especially with the little ones, when the questions start flying, write them down (make sure they see you write them down, because credibility and such) and then plan a 20-minute session where you two can sit down and answer them. The cool thing about parenting is that the smaller the kiddo is, the cooler they think you are. Put Doc McStuffins and Peppa Pig to shame by hyping your internet answer scavenger hunt up like it’s play time; they will think you are the greatest thing in the world forever, or until they hit 12, whichever comes first.
Let them do the typing
The next time you do a Google fact-find, don’t be afraid to give them the keyboard: If they are old enough to read, they are old enough to learn how to spell and type. For the less patient among us, watching them hunt and peck at first may be a labor of love, but it’s worth it. By the time they become functional adult people, chances are they will write very little, but type a whole lot. Give them the answer to the questions they seek, and help them get those words-per-minute up to a respectable rate. Win-win.
Return the favor by asking them a question or two while you’re at it
Once your kids have their druthers about them, start asking them some questions. Once your youngster is confident they understand what lungs do, ask them if they can tell you what kidneys do. Once they have a general idea of why fire is hot, ask them to see if they can tell you what makes ice cold. Now that you have a fairly safe and protected online environment setup, hop down some rabbit holes and see where the tubes take you.
Give them a bit of a leash
As your kids get a little experience under their belts, let them drive solo once and awhile. Now that isn’t to say park them in front of a screen for hours at a time, but challenge them to try and find the answer they are looking for without your help. Your future self will thank you.