Past generations used to read the newspaper or gather around the radio or TV to take in the daily news. Since there were fewer sources to receive information from, these sources needed to be reputable and trustworthy in order to remain popular. Usually, families took in the day’s headlines together. This meant parents were close by to explain what was going on and answer questions from their kids. But those days are long gone.
Today, we all get our news from our digital devices. Our kids are no different, they’re getting information from sources we don’t know much about, on social media platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok. While it is wonderful that news is so accessible, unfortunately this also means that it’s easier than ever for anyone to create “news” that looks trustworthy but doesn’t rely on facts or reality in order to get clicks and spread. Additionally, kids are taking in news away from the eyes and comforting wisdom of their parents and other trusted adults who used to provide context and explanation.
So, what can we do to make sure our kids (and ourselves!) don’t fall victim to false news stories?
Simple Steps to Protect Children from Fake News
- Talk to your kids about where they are getting their “news.” Regardless of the platform they are using, remind them to check the source of the information. Ask: Is the “news” you’re seeing coming from a reputable organization, or a shady-looking website with sensationalized headlines? You might even scroll through your own social media feed, like Facebook, with your child watching. Together look at some of the “news” you find there. If you see a story with an especially provocative headline, dive in. Show your child how to investigate the source of the article to see if the publisher or author is reputable (easy to do with a quick web search). If you find the article to be “fake news,” let the platform know! On Facebook it is easy to click on the upper right of the questionable post to indicate that you found it to be “false news.” Instagram has easy-to-use mechanisms to do this too, check it out with your child!
- Remember that many platforms popular with Gen Z (TikTok, Snapchat, Instagram, and more) don’t actually allow children under 13 to sign up for an account. In order to open an account, children under 13 have to lie about their age (easy to do), so many young children are using these sites. Unfortunately, in addition to being exposed to “news” that is potentially scary and unsettling, young children do not have the abstract thinking skills to recognize when something may be untrue or even partially untrue, making them additionally susceptible to falling for false information.
- For children older than 13 who are already online and getting their news from various social media apps, here’s a helpful exercise we can all use. Suggest they give the information the “C.R.A.P. Test.” When you see something questionable online, ask:
- Is the information Current?
- Is Reputable?
- Who is the Author?
- What is the Purpose and Point? (Is it trying to sell you on something?)
We certainly aren’t going to cure the ailment of “fake news” any time soon, but we can take a few, easy preemptive steps to help our kids stay inoculated against online misinformation.
References and Resources:
 Rheingold, Howard, Net Smart: How to Thrive Online (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2012), p. 16.