How can parents teach their children how to handle disinformation?

Parents play an important role in teaching their kids how to critically evaluate the news. These media literacy skills are vital for kids growing up in the digital age.

2021-01-21 Maltese Safer Internet Centre awareness media literacy/education parents and carers

Kids and teenagers are consuming more media than ever before, and research shows that on average they now spend at least six hours a day using media. The type of media being used is changing too, and social media now outstrips television as the main news source for young people.

Although this is not a bad thing per se, it is concerning when taking into account that social media have been a big purveyor of media hype and disinformation in recent years.

Often, children do not adequately criticise the media they consume or look to the source of a story to verify its truth. Helping kids develop media literacy skills is less about telling them what to believe and more about encouraging them to question the media messages they receive. Here are a few tips:

  • Help your kids understand the different types of media – The first step to teaching media literacy is helping kids understand there are different types of media and each one may influence them in a different way. Once they understand this, they will be in a better position to ask good questions and form their own opinions.
  • Teach your kids to ask questions – A critical mind is a questioning mind, so teaching your children to ask questions is a good way to strengthen their critical thinking skills. Asking the right questions will also help them determine the credibility of a media source. The following two questions are a good place to start: “who created it?” and “why was it created?”
  • Find examples your kids can relate to – When discussing the different types of media and how they influence us, it is important to use age-appropriate examples and discuss things children are already familiar with. For example, you can talk about the messages they might be exposed to when using their favourite social networks.
  • Teach kids how to evaluate a source – Older children should be taught how to determine whether a story is credible based on factors like the web address, whether more than one viewpoint is presented, and whether expert quotes, studies and statistics have been included.
  • Spend some time browsing websites together – The best way to check that your kids understand these important media literacy concepts is to show them some first-hand examples. Set aside some time to browse popular news and entertainment websites with your child and ask questions as you go along. For example, if your child has a favourite YouTube channel or TV show, ask them to explain to you in their own words why they think a particular video was created. Is it informational? Is it meant to entertain? Are any particular values or viewpoints are being promoted? How does it make them feel? Do they think it’s factual, and if so, why?

Find out more about the work of the Maltese Safer Internet Centre, including their awareness raising, helpline, hotline and youth participation services – or find similar information for Safer Internet Centres throughout Europe.

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