• Help Through the Middle Years

       Online, on AlertAll over the fibs are flying

    Heard about the pine-tree-loving Pacific Northwest tree octopus? Or the great California Velcro shortage of 1993? They must be true - Web sites confirm both.

    Welcome to the pseudoscience (OK, outright lies) of the online world. Trouble is, most kids believe that if it’s on the Internet, it must be true. That could mean big trouble for students who haven’t honed their critical-thinking skills.

    “Kids use the Internet without being taught to be skeptical of what they see online, and that’s dangerous,” says Allen November, a former high school science teacher who heads the November Learning education consultancy, in Marblehead, Massachusetts.

    “We spend a lot of time teaching kids to find things on the Net,” November adds, “but we need to expend ten times more effort teaching them how to interpret what they’ve found.”

    The purpose of even the most noble-sounding Web site can be quite the opposite of what it seems. You’d think a site with the URL www.martinlutherking.org would obtain a tribute to the fallen civil rights leader, for example, but it’s actually dedicated to attacking King’s ideas and history. To an adult, that’s quickly obvious. To a ninth grader, not so clear.

    Tech experts recommend that parents continually drill their children on the difference between objectivity and advocacy and teach them to be skeptics when it comes to online information. The tree-octopus story, for instance, once fooled an entire high school science class, which dutifully created reports based on a teacher’s assignment to check out the site. Talk about being up a tree.

     Steps for Skeptics

    When you go online, be a skeptic. Think critically about the purpose and perspective of a given Web site. Don’t accept information online as truth.

    Many people, especially kids, will believe someone who sounds authoritative, so check out the site’s author.  Be especially wary of a site whose URL contains the word user. It’s a personal page.

    Find out who owns the site. One easy way is to check out www.easywhois.com . That will give you a quick idea of who is creating ideas you’re reading.

    Check out who is linking to the site. Go to Alta Vista and type in “Link:(insert URL).” A site that at first blush appears to be an appreciation of the civil rights movement, for instance, might be a white-supremacist creation linked to by hundreds of hate mongers.

    Switch to Ask.com and Answers.com, says November, which are much better than Google for schoolwork.

    -James Daly

    Discipline Basics

    Tired of grounding your middle grader for not following the rules? Discipline can be tough to apply. Each day brings new challenges that parents must address to keep their children on the right path.  Sticking to some discipline basics like these can help.

     Stand Together  Parents should be a united team when it comes to discipline. Discuss general guidelines with your spouse to avoid the “But Dad said it was okay!” trap. And if your child asks to do something he’s never done before, tell him you need to think about it.  Then, discuss the matter privately with your spouse. Families operate more smoothly when both parents speak with one voice.

     Be Firm  When you make decisions, it’s important that you stick with them. Youngsters whose parents are likely to change their minds under pressure will try harder to get their way. Being consistent sends a strong message that can limit nagging. Your child will learn to accept your decision, even if she doesn’t agree with it.

     Keep it Simple  Too many rules can lead to confusion for both parents and middle graders. You’re better off setting few clear ground rules rather than listing an outcome for every situation. Keeping discipline simple allows kids to answer for their actions. It also lets parents emphasize the importance of self-control.

    -Middle Years, January 2005 


    Finding Real Friends

     Our son Eli recently started hanging out with a new friend. They seemed to get along in the beginning, but after a while, Mark started ignoring Eli.


     One day Eli came home really upset. He told me Mark was spreading rumors about him at school. I asked Eli why he was friends with Mark. Turns out that Mark is a very popular kid. Eli admitted that he thought he’d be popular, too, if he hung around Mark.

     I explained to Eli that a good friend is someone he can trust and who respects and likes him for who he is. I suggested that he try to make friends with kids who share his interests.

     Eli has learned a valuable lesson about friendship. And he took my advice and made friends with several classmates in the school band.


    -Middle Years, 2005