What did parents do before Google? Let’s be honest, when faced with a question we can’t answer, our first resource is Google. Most of us scan the first couple of answers and if they appear to match, we assume that’s the correct answer. While that might work for figuring out the age of an actor in the movie you’re watching, it’s not necessarily the best way to get accurate answers to spiritual questions.
Even more disturbing is that your children may never be taught even the most basic skills for getting better answers online – much less how to do more sophisticated things like screen responses for biblically accurate answers. Your children will use Google as their first choice for answering spiritual questions – no matter how many other options are at their disposal. Answers to questions they may never even admit they have to you or any other Christian. It is critical they know how to find the best possible answer so they aren’t led down a spiritual rabbit hole that weakens their faith.
Here are the basic skills your children need to learn.
- Wording search terms. There is an ongoing debate about whether using key words or complete sentences yields better results. Adults tend to use key words, while young people tend to use sentences. Google has adapted their programs to be more sentence friendly when searching. It’s still helpful to discuss with your children the best way to frame a search that will be more likely to get biblical answers. For example, let’s say one of your kids wants to know if a half truth is a lie. Searching ”Is it okay to tell a half truth” will get very different results than ”What does the Bible say about telling half truths”. Including the words Bible, Jesus, God (although this can sometimes result in answers from religions with multiple gods) and/or Christian/Christianity can eliminate some anti-biblical answers, but it won’t eliminate them all. Make sure your kids also know how to word a search so that the results yield actual scripture references (“Bible verses about…”).
- Recognizing and eliminating ads. If you haven’t noticed, Google now makes the first few responses paid ads. This means anyone willing to pay some money can get their site moved to the top few responses. As we know – the ability to afford an ad does not necessarily equate to biblically accurate answers. Do enough searches for your children to become comfortable identifying responses that are ads versus actual responses to their query.
- Correcting spelling errors in searches. When your search has what Google considers a spelling error, it will search using what it believes is the correct spelling. These searches are for some reason less thorough than if you had spelled the word correctly in your original search. Teach your kids to notice corrections and re-do their search using the correct spelling.
- Finding the ”About” info on websites. More advanced skills focus on determining the quality of each response. This is built in part upon the basic skill of identifying who wrote the material your child has clicked on in their search results. Can they find any background information on the author, ministry, etc.? What religious affiliation is there? Does the website have a stated purpose? Have your children practice until they can find background info on the authors of any website. (Slightly advanced skill set? If the only information you can find on the website is the name of a person or ministry, try searching for that name in Google and see what other information you can gather from those resources.)
In our next post, we will share more advanced skills for determining the quality of a spiritual answer found online. In the meantime, make sure your children have mastered these basic skills.