How to Educate Kids on Media Literacy
The media is so often saturated with bias and misinformation that even most adults have trouble figuring out the truth of a given subject. We can’t ignore the fact that helping children navigate the age of information will allow them to develop the critical thinking skills they need for their futures. Even the American Psychological Association encourages parents to be an active “media mentor” which can foster media literacy in kids.
What is Media Literacy?
Media literacy is the ability to be able to notice the messages, motives, and false information behind media content. How do you take on such a complicated subject?
As parents well know, kids are naturally curious. It’s important to be able to gently guide children towards the truth without confusing or overwhelming them with adult topics.
Distinguish Fiction and Reality
Depending on their age, your child may have trouble recognizing the differences in what they see in movies and TV shows versus the news. Explain to your child how the news is supposed to be from the “real world,” while their favorite movies might be based in fantasy or use special effects for entertainment. At this age, kids may not be ready to grasp complex or tragic news stories.
Find Reputable Sources
With parental supervision, the Internet can be a fun and engaging experience. Allow them to see the difference between news from a small blog on the Internet and news from a reputable source. Show them that well-known news organizations will always provide research and quotes to back up their information. Advise them that mainline and local news sources are typically more objective than non-mainline sources. Some examples of non-mainline outlets are MSNBC, Fox News, Gawker and Reddit. Teach them that the dates on articles are important; it may be outdated or have been recently disproved. Allow them to look at a variety of news sources which talk about the same subject and see what is consistent between them.
Spot Emotional Language
Find simple ways to show how different politicians want the approval of certain groups and may use emotional language to convince their audience. Emphasize to your child that someone on the news may want to stir up feelings about a topic but may have little evidence to back up their claims; further investigation is important. No matter your political views, try to find evidence of this on both sides of the political spectrum. Point out how article titles that seem dramatized or exaggerated in some way may be untrue.
Discuss Social Media
“Children need to spend time online to learn how to navigate the digital environment, even if this means being exposed to some level of risk,” says researcher Daniel Kardefelt-Winther of Children & Digital Technology at UNICEF Innocenti. “This is how children learn to navigate the offline world, so why would online be different?”
Social media sites can be a great way to share your life and ideas, but misinformation can very easily be spread around. Teach them the importance of looking at reliable sources if a rumor or false information spreads online. Remind them that Youtube videos might also have misinformation since accounts may want more clicks to increase their popularity. Your child may also stumble upon political satire, so be sure to clarify that this is one way people show their beliefs, but it comes from a biased standpoint.
We Can All Work Together!
Everything from TV news stations to billboard advertisements all have the goal of enriching their organization or company. The Internet, especially, has made it possible for just about anyone to post content and gain a following–with or without credible sources. By teaching our children the skills of skepticism when it comes to the news, we can be sure the lessons we teach them now will help them become independent thinkers and carry on into adulthood.