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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this website.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Wikipedia entries are compiled by users -- not an editorial staff. It's a constantly evolving collaborative encyclopedia and kids use it all the time to do research. The site employs no age filters. Kids who roam through the site can research anything from Galilleo to graphic sexual practices. Searches may return great information or words or images that are not for kids under any circumstances. That said, most kids are asked to use this resource for schoolwork. The most important thing kids have to realize is that even though many people look at entries, that doesn't guarantee that what they see is accurate. Kids must be encouraged to think critically about what they read and double check facts and sources if they are using anything for a homework assignment. While the millions of topics include many well-researched, kid-friendly entries, Wikipedia also has some material that is absolutely not appropriate for kids. The site does monitor the material posted, but it's just so enormous that the potential for kids to stumble upon age-inappropriate -- or inaccurate -- text and photos exists. Entries can also include links to outside sites, and kids can post and receive unedited messages in the discussion areas. Mostly, kids start surfing through the site and travel as their interests dictate. That said, some of those "interests" can be "TMI" for kids.
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What's it about?
WIKIPEDIA.ORG fuses those 12 old-school volumes of hardback encyclopedias into one URL with a wealth of information on geography, the arts, history, and other standard encyclopedic categories, along with kid-friendly, pop-culture entries on comic strips, toys, and TV shows.
Is it any good?
The most important thing to know about this collaborative encyclopedia is that anyone with an Internet connection can edit entries, and while the site does have rigorous guidelines and a system to catch and eliminate bad content, they just can't keep up with the millions of constantly changing entries. (Malicious content is removed as quickly as possible and hard-hit entries are locked down from further editing.) And you can guarantee that your curious kid will find all the detailed entries you wished he hadn't (pornography, explicit song lyrics, long-winded definitions of dirty words). The carefully researched, comprehensive entries do exist, but a disclaimer states that stuff may be wrong and to use the site as just one of many reference tools. You might also want to check out the discussion areas before your kid freely posts or gets any messages.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the nature of a collaborative encyclopedia. Why is it important to use Wikipedia simply as a launching pad for more extensive research? Families can also talk about the ways to double-check a Wikipedia entry against more formal references. How do you navigate through such large amounts of information and find what's important?
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