User:Acroterion/Dealing with the young
One consequence of Wikipedia's open editing policy is that it often attracts users who are too young to work within its rules, or to interact with other editors appropriately. Children who react well to direct verbal instruction may simply not comprehend the same direction when delivered in Wikipedia's text-based interface. Children who are compliant with people they know may not react appropriately to well-meant advice from strangers. Editors who attempt to guide very young users may find themselves misunderstood and possibly blamed by the child when things don't turn out the way the child expects.
All Wikipedia users bear a responsibility to welcome new users and, if necessary, to try to protect the very young or incompetent from their naiveté. Children often don't understand that the Internet is not a benign playground, and that they can post information that can be harmful to themselves, their families or their friends. While Wikipedia is a safer environment than many places on the Internet, its very prominence may give indiscretions a wider audience than they would otherwise receive. Young adolescents may not be able to contribute to the encyclopedia appropriately or productively, and may not be able to understand when or why their behavior is disruptive. Appropriate actions can and will vary according to the perceived maturity of the child and their manner of interaction with other users.
Any interaction with children must be judged on a case-by-case basis. Previous discussions have found no consensus for action or policy based on calendar age; editors must judge their actions based on apparent maturity and capacity to act appropriately in their own interests and to interact with the encyclopedia in a positive manner.
This essay is not intended to dictate policy on content or to formalize a policy on what children may or may not do on Wikipedia. It doesn't specifically focus on vandalism, except as an aid to assessment, and which is effectively dealt with in most cases without extended interactions. This discussion is mainly concerned with new content or changes to existing content, and is primarily aimed at giving editors guidelines for assessing the ability of young users to interact productively on Wikipedia with benefit to the encyclopedia, independent of calendar age, and to outline possible courses of action.
The advanced young user
Wikipedia offers a remarkable opportunity for children with advanced skills to interact with adults on an adult or near-adult level in a relatively safe, supportive environment. Such children may be denied these opportunities at home or in their schools, and Wikipedia can be an interactive resource for their personal and intellectual development. With appropriate and considerate guidance, such editors can flourish on Wikipedia and become valued editors.
Common issues with young users
Young users often create new articles that fail Wikipedia's inclusion policies for a variety of reasons. As opposed to vandalism, which tends to be dealt with in summary fashion, deletions often involve some kind of dialogue with the creator of the article. Such discussions often run aground on two fronts: the youthful editor's understanding of their place in the world, and their ability to interact with strangers in a text-based editing environment.
Young users follow a well-worn developmental path. Really young users usually write about themselves or their close friends and relatives, in more-or-less creatively spelled and composed short sentences, often resembling a simple school assignment. Those who feel inclined to vandalize might insert random text or variations on "poop." Others might create articles with interrogative titles suggestive of the subject they're studying in school, like "Why is the sky blue?", either in article space, or if they are IPs, in article talk space.
As children move into pre-adolescence, spelling and grammar improve, often to a high level, but a characteristically limited world view persists. Children at this age will write about their accomplishments, real or aspirational. Girls often speak of themselves as actresses, models or singers, while both boys and girls begin to write about their YouTube channels. In virtually all cases none of these claims will pass the notability bar, and it can be hard to explain Wikipedia's notability and sourcing requirements to these users, who still perceive themselves in terms of their significance among their circle of family and friends, and who have no real grasp of the true scale of the world or their place in it. Vandalism from this age group, particularly among boys, will start to show simple sexual themes.
Early adolescents show greater sophistication in their interactions with others and in their editing efforts. By this time many have developed a good grasp of how the Internet works and are trying to exploit it, recognizing that Wikipedia is a prominent place for publicity. While their worldview has expanded beyond family and friends, it still remains circumscribed, with claims like "Billy Smith is an influential person in Jones County Middle School." Boys and girls write about non-notable bands and singers, and boys about gaming clans, podcasts and gangs. Vandalism from this age group can be much more advanced, varying between straightforward defamation and superficially plausible disinformation. Sexual themes are more prominent, and are often fixated on sexual orientation. Defamation of teachers and other adult authority figures starts to appear at this age, and misogyny among boys. The ability of other editors to get through to troublesome editors in this age group will vary according to maturity: some will not be competent, while others will display advanced abilities.
Late adolescents are almost always able to understand and act on text-based communications, but may employ strategic ignorance our outright stubbornness rather than actual incomprehension in their interactions with other editors. Their world view has expanded, so that now Billy Smith "is a major influence in Jones County, Indiana." High schoolers display considerable creativity, inventing new words, games and memes, hoping to use Wikipedia to publicize them. Vandalism varies widely from simple tests to full-on defamation, particularly of entertainers and sports figures. Misogyny among boys of this age can be startling. Articles on non-notable bands, singers, actors, podcasts become more sophisticated, and require greater diligence in notability checking, since this group may produce the next Rebecca Black. Gaming clans remain firmly non-notable at every age.
Dealing with young users
Really young children usually present few problems apart from test edits and inappropriate self-revelation. It will be clear that they are experimenting with the encyclopedia, and the majority of them will simply move on and disappear. Those who post personal information or disrupt the encyclopedia should simply be blocked as gently as possible, with no drama and no blame, since you simply won't be able to explain the problem to them in a way that will get a productive result Personal information should be oversighted via the mailing list, and talkpage access removed if they show signs that they will continue to post too much information.
Pre-adolescents are often the most difficult young users to deal with. They have perhaps just discovered what Wikipedia has to offer, and they want to jump in and contribute. Unfortunately, at this age, most have a sketchy idea of what's appropriate, and virtually none understand research, notability or composition. We then end up raining on their parade, commonly eliciting accusations of meanness. Links to policies, guidelines and walls of text on Wikipedia's many rules simply won't get read or understood since they're written for very patient, relatively mature audiences by people who are almost all college-educated people with a background in technical subjects. Rather than indulge in tedious explanations, a good strategy is often to politely and non-specifically insist "thank you, but it's not something we can use."
Young adolescents are widely variable in their abilities and in their level of cooperation with other editors. Children this age, having not yet learned the fundamental lesson that life is unfair, will attempt to argue on the basis of "fairness." Those who are a bit more inclined to argue policy will attempt to argue that the policy merits exception or that the issue at hand does meet policy, at least within their personal universe. Often this age group will respond poorly to criticism and may be particularly thin-skinned in response to perceived or unintended slights, taking criticism of their edits as a personal attack.
Older adolescents of approximately high school age are for the most part socially adept and able to respond thoughtfully to other editors. They are also more tenacious and eloquent in defense of their edits, and more likely to frame their responses in some version of Wikipedia policy. That said, most teenagers still live in a comparatively small world and are not disposed to discuss issues within the context of a global encyclopedia.
The parents of young users will sometimes appear on the account if they discover the activity or if there is off-wiki fallout from their child's activities. Parental inquiries should be handled patiently, with the realization that the parents are probably Wikipedia novices and unfamiliar with site policies. Parents may often be able to provide insights into the child's activities and interactions that can guide further action. Parents, once considerately apprised of the issues, are often able to explain problems or provide discipline to the child. At the least, we can often prompt the parent to have a discussion with the child on the appropriate use of the Internet.
Appropriate editor interaction
Threats of harm
All threats of harm should be reported to the Wikimedia Foundation's emergency mailing list ((email@example.com) for action by Foundation staff in accordance with Wikipedia:Responding to threats of harm.
- Wikipedia:Child protection
- Wikipedia:Advice for parents
- Wikipedia:Guidance for younger editors
- Wikipedia:Minors and persons judged incompetent (essay on editing about them)
- Wikipedia:Requests for arbitration/Protecting children's privacy
- Children's Online Privacy Protection Act