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Teaching your tweens and teens to be media literate

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There are more ways for people to get news and information than at any other time in history.

This access is good and bad. On one hand, more information is almost always better than less. On the other, how do you sort through it all and determine the veracity of what you’re reading or hearing?

The challenge is especially acute for teens and tweens who may still be developing critical-thinking skills as consumers. Ohio State School of Communication lecturers Kristie Sigler and Mary Sterenberg recently published a blog post that gives advice on how you can help teens and tweens navigate an increasingly dangerous information superhighway.

  1. Stay involved.

    The National Association for Media Literacy Education cautions parents not to back away from regulating their kids’ media consumption as they hit tween and teen years. Tweens and teens naturally start to seek out independence and find their own identities during these years, but media shouldn’t be the only voice telling our kids who they should want to be. Plenty of images online don’t give young people a healthy or realistic model, and parents can be a voice of reality and reason.

    NAMLE offers a free Parent’s Guide to Media Literacy with information on helping kids build healthy relationships with media.

  1. Identify credible sources.

    Share this short video from PBS news with your tweens and teens to let another young person tell them how to navigate social media news. She gives tips on what sources should be considered “green lights” and what warning flags indicate fake news or advertising that might appear to be actual news.

    One tip Sigler and Sterenberg give college students is that websites that end in .gov, .edu and .org carry more weight and credibility than a .com. NAMLE’s Parent’s Guide to Media Literacy also includes helpful examples of conversations you can easily imagine having with a tween and teen.

  2. Teach the art of double-checking.

    In its curriculum for middle and high school students, Common Sense Media uses a technique called lateral reading. This means encouraging our kids to corroborate information they find with another source (or more). We can suggest they look for a news item in multiple places to see if it is widely covered and also appears in trusted news outlets. If they find several articles on the same topic, they can compare the coverage on different sites and consider major differences in what information is provided.

  3. Decode fake news and ads disguised as news.

    Almost a quarter of adults have shared a false news story according to Canada-based Media Smarts, a center for digital and media literacy. We’re all getting more and more news on social media, and we tend to ask fewer questions about credibility when we receive news from people we know. 

    We need to remind our tweens and teens (and ourselves) not to believe everything we read. Media Smarts offers an Authentication 101 tip sheet on how to recognize false information online.

  4. Give a lesson in what makes news newsy.

    Sterenberg started her career as a journalist, putting her in a position to really give her kids an earful about the 24/7 news cycle and news values. These aren’t things the average parent knows. Media outlets choose news based on what they think their audience wants or needs to know most.

    News values haven't changed much over the years, but the internet now makes news a 24/7 business. The pressure on media outlets to provide timely and accurate information all day every day can jeopardize research and fact-checking even among credible news sources.

    This printer-friendly news values worksheet from the PBS Student Reporting Lab gives more detail on news values.

  5. Reinforce family values.

    As you discuss current events and other issues with your tweens and teens, bring your own family’s values into the conversation. Sigler and Sterenberg wrote an entire post about how to define your family’s values and why it’s such a game-changer for parents of tweens and teens. Help your kids see how you filter what you see and read through the values you’ve chosen for your family, and how that impacts your response to information in the media.

  6. Use politics as a lesson in media literacy.

    Common Sense Media gives easy ways to talk to kids about politics and breaks them down elementary through high school in ways that are developmentally appropriate.