Good Digital Parenting
Blog | Sept. 7, 2015

Teach your Child to Identify Reliable Websites and Sources

Program Coordinator, FOSI

Does your child know how to swim? Are they in the process of learning? I think we can all agree that learning to swim is an essential life skill, something our wellbeing depends on. What if I told you that learning to identify good and valuable online resources was another crucial life skill that our wellbeing depends on? While it may not be a life or death situation, the ability to identify reliable websites and sources contributes to our success in academia, it prevents us from looking foolish and is a form of self defense. 

Why Reliable Sources Matter

From an academic perspective, your child needs to be able to cite good quality sources in their work. They need to be able to demonstrate that they are able to find information of value. 

When it comes to looking like a fool, I am sure we have all seen that person on our social networks linking to a fabricated video of a mouse eating an alligator or someone freaking out over a satire piece from The Onion. It is embarrassing and you are passing along information that is false. 

For safety, it is important to identify reliable and safe sites to prevent identity theft or unsafe interactions online. We need to be able to go to a site and assess the tone and know right away that something isn’t right, that we are about to be scammed.  

Have I convinced you yet? The process of learning to identify reliable sources is a great way for you and your child to spend time together online.  Just like swimming, it takes practice, it is a learned skill and it takes time to train your mind to process the indicators. 

A Good Place to Start

Here’s what I suggest: Start surfing the web with your child at a young age. Point out to them what makes a site good and what makes it questionable. In your own time seek out some sites that are not reliable but not full of adult content and language and take your child to those sites as well. You can’t expect them to learn or spot red flags  if you are only showing them solid sites. 

As your child gets older, spend some time reviewing the sources they are citing in their homework. Ask them questions about the sources, ask about the author or the organization. Keep them on their toes and make sure they took the time to examine where they got their information. 

Below are some basic indicators and questions you can teach your child to consider when evaluating online sources:

The URL- Just looking at the address of a website can give a lot of insight to how much value it has. The extension at the end of the website (example .com) indicates what category the website falls under. 

  •  .org: An advocacy website, such as a not-for-profit organization.
  • .com: A business or commercial site.
  • .net: A site from a network organization or an Internet service provider.;
  • .edu: A site affiliated with a higher education institution.
  • .gov: A federal government site.
  • .il.us: A state government site, this may also include public schools and community colleges.
  • .uk (United Kingdom) : A site originating in another country (as indicated by the 2 letter code)

Referral- Always ask yourself about how you found the source. Were you directed to the website by an educator? Did you come across it on a site that you already know is valid? Or did you come across it on social media?

Identify Authority- Consider who is supplying the information. Who is authoring the page? What do you find if do a separate search on just their name? Do they provide links to their social pages or to additional work? 

To further educate yourself check out this resource from Berkeley University of California for more information on identifying good resources online.