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'Of Course It's True--I Read It on the Internet!'

By , SparkPeople Blogger
A few weeks ago, I was asked to talk to an eighth-grade health class about food and nutrition.  During the school day, there were five periods of eighth grade health; each class contained about 25 students.  I have worked with this age group before and was well aware of the diverse reactions I would encounter among typical 13 and 14 year olds.  I knew that some would be very much interested in the topic, some would be defensive and defiant, others rude, and some just ''too cool'' to comment.  But off I went, with my plastic food models, portion plates and sugar test tubes.
However, the reactions I experienced throughout the day were not what I expected. To make my point, here are just a few examples. (Trust me; the full list is much longer.)
  • A girl told me that she refuses to eat canned fruits and vegetables because there are also bugs in the can.
  • A young boy emphatically informed me that Red Bull energy drink is made with bull sperm. (''Why do you think the word ''bull'' is in the name?'')
  • After I explained that diet pop is fine to drink in moderation, one teen said, ''I can’t believe you are telling me it is OK to drink diet pop. Don't you know that it erodes the muscles off your bone?''
  • Another child graphically described to me what happens when you consume meat. (''Your body cannot digest meat, and it rots in your stomach.'')
Time and time again, I would ask, ''Where did you hear that?''  The response was always similar: ''I read it on the internet,'' or ''My dad read it on the internet,'' or ''My aunt read it on the internet.'' Get the picture? 
I took a step back and asked them, ''Have you ever heard of the scientific method?''  They responded that yes, they had studied it in science class.  I asked which study would be more reliable: 
  • A study on rats or a study on people?
  • A study on 5 people or a study on 5,000 people?
  • A study lasting 5 days or a study lasting 5 years?
They answered each question correctly.  However, as I took the next step and suggested that not everything found on the internet is accurate, reliable or based on research, I was immediately trashed.  How could I even suggest that their trusted friend, the internet, would provide anything but the most accurate information?
While I found the day to be exhausting and somewhat disturbing, I also know that I need these kids. This is ''Generation Z,'' the multitasking generation, the technology-centered generation, the connected generation. In the near future, I will be relying on this generation for my mode of transportation, living accommodations, form of communication, access to information, and health care in my 70s and 80s.  Scary thought, isn’t it? While these kids are so savvy at technology today, I can only pray that they will be equally as savvy at understanding and applying the scientific method in the future. It's up to us to teach them how to identify reliable information now, so that they can help us later on.
So, how can we, as adults, assure that the information we find on the web is accurate and based on scientific research? And how can we help our children to be savvy users as well? To begin the process, check out these trusted sites for accurate health information and tips on reliable web searching:

Do you get frustrated with the accuracy of information on the internet? What is life like with your Generation Z-ers?

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Great blog, Becky. Thanks for sharing! It is not entirely up to the schools to teach everything. Parents need to have common sense and set good examples for their kids. Much is Common Sense!!! Report
It's not just the internet, lazy journalists who do not check their data before going into print spread irresponsible misinformation too. Report
Trust snopes?? I don't think so!! They aren't right all the time either! Report
I'm with Diamondblue24 and I'm in CA, not Florida. Some years ago while teaching an 8th grade history class small groups researched and presented topics on the Civil War to their peers. Most of the class and I were startled when 2 girls announced that the South had won the war. I gently asked their information source and was shown a website that purported to be a "history" of the Civil War with a very distorted point of view.
Needless to say, I began to teach my students how to evaluate information sources, print and media, as well as the Internet, for bias. Report
never know what 2 believe Report
never know what 2 believe Report
It would be lovely to believe everything that everyone says is accurate but that would be irresponsible and naive. When searching the internet for information, like in real life, I always try to consider the source. That can mean searching out various sources to draw a final conclusion but how hard is that to do? Report
Sadly, I resist having my students do research on the internet - as soon as my back is turned or the work they do at home they head right to wikipedia ~ which can contain accurate information - but often not only includes inaccuracies but numerous typos. I tell them to double and triple check their information with multiple sites. Report
I am an old lady... I try VERY to avoid artificial sweetners and I gave up soda pop as a teenager... Way before the internet! My dentist suggested I give it up or lose my teeth, scary thought. I check a lot of internet info with snopes and and other sources... So far I've found that the internet is a GREAT place to pick up a lot of misinformation! Report
I have just read all the blog and all the comments! Everyone is so right but I agree with TOWHEE!! I have seen similar "information" posted here on SP by participants. One lady (who has since left), posted a lot about how bad meat is for you and that all you should eat are ORGANIC veggies and fruits. Nothing else. No grains, no nuts! NOTHING!!! So glad that she is gone!!! Report
I had a friend who believed an april fools joke once and told my husband about it. He's a computer programmer and knew right away it was a joke. She was sent an email saying that on April 1st, the internet was down for cleaning. She tends to believe a lot of BS on the computer. I reember once she was having a bad day, I told her that you can't believe everything you read online, she tried to convience me otherwise. I told her thats stupid, I get certain enhancements for men all the time, does that mean it's true? I'm female, her response was, if I get those types of emails, then it must be true, I need those enhancements. I'm like, does that make me a guy then? Well, if I get the emails, then I must be a guy. Wha...?!? you've known me for how many years now? Some people are way too gullable. Report
While the internet is a wonderful source of information, I have read an abundance of absolute rubbish on there as well. It's not so much that the children "think" it's accurate, it's the fact that they are adamant that they are right and anyone that contradicts this is an idiot. Look at the whole "carbs are bad thing", there are so many people out there that are neglecting a major source of nutrition on the basis of what one or two "experts" post. I think the time has come for some common sense to be taught to our children, but where do we find the teacher???? Report
I have ADULTS passing around wrong info without checking--because they are afraid of microwave ovens or whatever. At least check Snopes!! Report
Great blog.
"What would you do to verify the information you've read on the internet," is what I suggest asking the kids. Perhaps find something patently false on the internet, that they could easily verify as false at their age level, by using an appropriate research source. Report
Critical thinking is lost in public school curriculums around the country because of the reliance on "accountability measures" a/k/a standardized testing. Students are taught how to take tests, not how to make sense of the larger world around them. This is especially true of my home state of Florida. It's an absolute mess. Report
I think my kids know better than to believe everything they read on the Internet. Report
They don't have the cognitive capability to integrate what they have learned and what they experience. That happens later, in high school. Things are compartmentalized at their age - it's not THIS generation, but kids are just like that anyway. By the time they are in their late teens and early 20's (college age) they can start to sift through real data. If they choose to - I know many adults who refuse to believe a lot of science is true, because, for example, it doesn't coincide with what their pastor says... Report
I wouldn't worry too much about it; after all, they're just kids. Children of all generations have believed equally silly things, the only difference being the source of information ("Jamie's cousin's uncle said so" instead of "I read it on the internet"). Meanwhile, the ability to critically evaluate information on the internet is being trained into today's youth in university--just TRY to write a paper that sources Wikipedia and see how far that takes you. Give these kids time to get further along in their education, and they'll straighten out. Report
I work with kids on a website for children from ages 6-18. The average age of the kids I deal with ar 12-17. Their reliance on digital media is astonishing, and I see the same sorts of ignorance in them. Fortunately, my kids are a bit more willing to be corrected. Perhaps we need to focus on the parents as much as the kids; the reason these kids lack critical thinking skills and the ability to tell fact from fiction is because their parents lack it as well, and aren't teaching them.

Anyone who's a regular on the message board knows that people constantly spout the same myths over and over again: "I want to shrink my tummy, what ab exercises will help?" or "Dr. Oz says that XYZ supplement is awesome, should I take it" or even "Fat makes you fat!"

We have to keep fighting the good fight. It's the Beckys of this world that will make the difference. Keep it up, Becky... you're already changing lives. And you'll change more. Report
Do I trust what I read on the internet? Nope. Then again, I can't tell you how many times someone of an older generation freaked out because of information from a TV News story or the newspaper. The internet simply magnifies the number of opinions, twists, and distortions that happen.

Even a 5 year study of 5000 people is not evidence of a fact. If 80% of people who do X in the study get Y, there are 20% who did not and a wide variety of questions not asked or reviewed by the study.

The benefit of the internet is that for every "ZOMG, Sugar is POISON!!!11!", there is a dissenting voice willing to say "Okay, let's look at what studies we can find and dig in for the little kernels of data, then make our own decision."

I don't EXPECT those of the youngest generation to have developed critical thinking skills that fully yet. Many of older generation didn't start questioning what parents and teachers taught as truth until college or later. Report
Oh so true. I teach in a middle school and one of the first lessons I try to teach the kids is about the internet and how to determine if the sites are viable. Somedays it feels like an uphill battle! Report
Shoyer, I couldn't agree more! Report
We see this also in youth we work with. You ask, "So, how can we, as adults, assure that the information we find on the web is accurate and based on scientific research?"

You or I or anyone cannot assure that. What has been lost along our educational path is the education and subsequent learning HOW to critically assess accuracy and bias in information sources. We as a society in general don't have the critical thinking skills anymore BECAUSE information (accurate or not) is everywhere. We don't need to think and reason through where our correct and appropriate resources are because words purporting to be true are within reach as easily as those that actually are true. We lack reasoning skills to know the difference. Report
My grandchildren learned the computer on their grandfather's knee. His career was in creating programs and working with computers for the state. He created the network for the DMV in our State. We taught them early that someone could write anything and publish it on the internet but that did not make it true. We have long made jokes out of the absurd stories Not based on fact. I have taught my friends and family how to identify reliable research. We need to teach our children to be critical thinkers and this begins in the home. Report
Critical thinking has been eliminated in many places. People trust the words of the network newscasters. Above anything else these guys are generally actors and in some cases only read scripts. I know this because I know someone who writes scripts for them to read. Study information given, research all possibilities, do not jump to conclusions and react, study and respond.
I've learned to verify anything and everything I read on the internet. A few sites that are helpful for separating fact from fiction are and Report
Unfortunately, I see similar comments on blogs by SparkPeople participants, also. Somewhere along the line, critical thinking has been eliminated from the school curriculum. Report
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