In today’s political climate, we hear a lot about fake news. These are stories that are “planted” in social media outlets, such as Facebook. Fake news is mistakenly and easily trusted because these stories seem like real news the stories and they are widely shared even though they are inaccurate or just plain wrong.
A recent Pew Research Centre survey found only 39 percent of American adults felt “very confident” in their ability to know when a news story is fake. Twenty-three percent even said they shared a fake news story online.
If adults have trouble deciphering fake news from real news, the situation is more troubling for teens and children. This especially the case considering that studies show teens turn to Facebook as their primary social media news source. For tweens, YouTube is their most trusted source online.
If teens and tweens didn’t care about the news or pay attention to it, parents might not worry as much about the topic. However, studies show that these demographics value the news. In a study titled “News and America’s Kids,” 70 percent of respondents ages 10 to 18 said the news made them feel knowledgeable. Almost 50 percent said the news was important to them.
Show them bad news, however, and it can negatively impact their mood. Sixty-three percent said the news makes them feel angry, afraid, sad or depressed.
So how can we teach our kids the difference between real and fake news? How can we ensure they are relying on trusted information? Here are a few ideas:
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Make sure you know where your children are getting their news. While tweens still tend to get most of their news information from parents and teachers, that begins to change as tweens become teens. Teens begin to rely more heavily on social media, websites and apps for their news. They start to turn less to parents and traditional media sources, leaving them exposed to fake news.
How much time does your child spend on social media? Do you know what they’re doing online? Be aware of the sites they use, what they’re reading online and how much time they’re spending on it. How do you find out? You can monitor their usage on tracking apps, viewing their browser history and by asking.
Talk to your kids about the news and fake news. Open a dialogue with your child. Do they have any questions about anything they’ve read online recently? Talk about issues at the dinner table. Watch the news together in the evening or turn it on in the car when you’re driving. They will naturally absorb whatever information they overhear.
Raise the topic of fake news. Talk to them about what it is and how to recognize the signs—by questioning what they read online, using more traditional media channels and talking to trusted adults about anything that doesn’t sound quite right, especially before they are tempted to share it with friends. They might not even be aware that some stories are untrue. This will help your child become more social media savvy and politically aware.
Teach them to be skeptical. Let your child know it’s okay—even good—to question what they read online or hear from friends. If they notice a red flag, question it, think critically about what they’ve heard and talk to an adult. Let them know they can talk to you about any questions they might have and that no question is a bad one or “dumb” one.
Encourage them to be skeptical about what they hear and especially to place less value in the stories they read online. Talk to them about how else they might go about verifying a story that seems dubious. Suggest asking a parent or teacher, watching the news on TV, listening to the radio or reading the news either in print or online from a trusted source.
Speak to your child’s teacher about how current events are handled in the classroom. If your child’s school doesn’t have a specific course on current events, perhaps your child’s teacher discusses various newsworthy subjects in class. Perhaps they would discuss current events more often if they knew it was of concern to parents. Is there a course or unit on media literacy that could reinforce the warnings you’re teaching at home? You and your child’s teacher are a team and you all want the same positive outcomes for your child.
Fake news is a very real concern today and we don’t want our teens and tweens to fall victim to it. While even adults can be easily duped by a fake news story, there are things you can do as parents to make your kids more aware of what fake news is and where to turn for more accurate information.