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Fake News and Misinformation

This article provides some advice for caregivers on how to teach their children to recognize fake news.

In today’s world, fake news, misinformation, general media exaggeration and bias are everywhere.  Sometimes it can be tricky to understand what is actually happening and what is all hype.  If this is true for adults, imagine how difficult it is for children and teenagers to navigate the media.  Imagine how easy it is to for them to believe that their favorite Instagram star really has is the perfect weight, has perfect skin, the perfect relationship, basically the perfect life. 

Not only can the media be misleading but these different forms of misinformation can also be dangerous.  Therefore, it is important to teach our children the skills they need to discern fact from fiction. 


How to discern fact from fiction?

A good first step can just be to teach your children the meaning of the word “fact” and to illustrate this through examples.  Then look at credible news stories, vs. “fake news” and dissect them together.  For teachers, one exercise can be to ask students to write two opposing articles about a piece of news or historical story, to push them to understand the same set of facts from two diverse perspectives. Parents and caregivers can also call attention to advertisements and other forms of sponsored stories and ask children what they think about them.

According to one popular language institute, there are five general ways of dissecting websites and discerning fake news from real news. They are:

  • Looking for unusual URLs.
  • Dissecting the layout. 
  • Digging deeper.
  • Cross-checking.
  • Trying a reverse image search.


How can parents lead by example?

It is also good to lead by example, so having newspapers by credible news sources at home is one good way to teach your children from a young age that it is important to stay current on world events, by reading such sources.  As your children get older, try reading light news stories together and then talking about them.  Reading fact-based literature, such as history books and biographies, is another good way to teach your children that facts matter.

As always, communication is important, so having discussions at the dinner about recent news events, or even just something that your child might be interested in that can potentially relate in some way to the media, is another good way to check in with your kids regarding things they might be hearing at school or from their friends that might also be misinformation.


Content creation and misinformation

When it comes to the vlogging and blogging industries, more and more tweens and teens are online either creating content or consuming it.  While the lists of pros and cons can go on for days, there may be real negative consequences to things like self-esteem that can result from young people not being able to look at online posts critically and objectively. Feelings like ‘excessive fashion envy’ are the negative results of an over-commercialized world mixed with the constant visibility of those who can afford (or are gifted) expensive items.

Parents can sure that their teen understands that it is ok to aspire to be as successful as their favorite fashion blogger, but material things are not everything, and also that blogger is only human and has flaws and problems too.  If you feel that your child is following bloggers that do not align with your family values, have a conversation with them about it and then work with them to try finding new ones that are just as fashionable but also adhere to the ideals that you do.


Understand what is misinformation vs. quality information:

  • People often embellish on social media.  No one’s life is as picture-perfect as his or her Instagram photos show.
  • Unfortunately, politicians and other public figures lie, so it is important to talk to the adults around you and to look for different reputable news sources, before believing everything you hear.
  • Do your own research.
  • Ask questions and start conversations with different people, including those who might have different opinions from your own.
  • As much as possible, try to get your news and other information from multiple sources, so that you can be sure that it is accurate.
  • Think critically, always.

In general, remember to always think critically when you read, watch or listen to news stories and to encourage your children to do so too.  Let them know that if they are unsure about something, they can always talk to you or another adult they trust about it.

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Call to Action

Be a role model for your children; educate yourself on how to avoid fake news and teach your children to do the same.

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