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College Advice for Digital Natives

For parents, understanding technology and modern communication is like learning a second language. We get as fluent as we can, but there’s an underlying yearning for the old days – when we actually spoke to each other face to face minus a satellite connection. Our kids are different. They are what the media calls “digital natives.” They were born into a world that communicates differently. They intuitively know what to do with a mouse, have never seen a dial phone, and wouldn't dream of texting a complete sentence to anyone. Like it or not, our little digital natives are about to head off to college. And, like the teenagers of any generation, they know far more than we do about… everything. But, if you can get yours to sit down with you for just a minute, you may be able to impart some wisdom that even they might find useful. Finding information is so easy for our kids. Type a question into Google, get 500,000 answers. Pick one and insert it into your assignment and you’re done. Never mind if it’s accurate. And never mind if it’s something someone else has written. Fact-checking and attribution are not hallmarks of the internet. But they are hallmarks of college level work. Let your kids know that many professors, like many parents, are not digital natives. They expect work that is original, and quotes from others to be clearly credited. They also expect students to check more than one source before drawing a conclusion. Grabbing images to illustrate your work when the images are clearly owned by someone else is, at best, unethical and, at worst, illegal. This magical source of infinite knowledge is fantastic, but it’s not a substitute for individual thought and creativity. Define plagiarism for your kids. Cutting and pasting from the internet is tantamount to plagiarism – and colleges frown upon that. Sometimes they suspend or expel students for that. We may understand how our kids could make the mistake of plagiarizing, but let’s help them avoid getting caught in that trap. We parents may be learning digital as a second language, but there’s something to be said for our native tongue. We need to preserve the concept of originality and impart it to our kids. Not just for history’s sake, but so that they can thrive and succeed as they leave us for college.

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