Digital literacy is important to raising good digital citizens.
Kids are consuming a lot more online content these days as at-home learning and social distancing remain a way of life for the foreseeable future. But not all web-based sources are created equal. The Internet is a haven for misinformation, and, as digital novices, our kids are easily susceptible to believing it. That is, until they build the tools they need to practice digital literacy. Being digitally literate means that when kids read or watch anything online, they should be able to not only understand its meaning, but also its source and whether the information is indeed fact or fiction. In short, they should be able to spot fake news, even if it’s just a school rumor.
“As parents, we want to help our kids become more independent as they grow up, from assigning chores around the house to letting them walk to school solo to handing them the keys to the car (eventually),” says Anne Bryan, CEO of Circle. “The same goes for building their digital independence. It’s never too late (or too early) to start teaching kids responsible screen time habits, and put them at “the wheel” of their devices in a healthy way.”
Help kids detect false information online.
1. Spot the Signs of Clickbait
To help your kids steer themselves away from misinformation and fake news, teach them the difference between legitimate and well-researched content and clickbait. Clickbait is any headline, video, or text that has been worded to entice you to click on a link. It can often use sensational language (You Won’t Believe This!) to provoke outrage or disbelief, which is why they’re so enticing to kids. These links are created by organizations to lure you to a page filled with ads. Their purpose is to generate revenue, not disseminate accurate information.
Clickbait is easy to spot as long as you know the clues. Teach your kids to look out for the signs of clickbait:
- Headlines in ALL CAPS.
- Accompanying images that are photoshopped.
- A domain name ending in .co (www.nbcnews.com.co).
- Multiple pop up and flashing banner ads.
If your kid ends up clicking on a story that could be fake news, prompt them to ask these questions:
- Does the story include any quotes, references, or links? If not, this is a flag the information isn’t accurate.
- Does the story make you mad? A factual article should make you feel informed, not just frustrated and angry.
- What do legitimate news sources say? Professional fact checkers require three legitimate sources to verify information. Teach kids, especially teens, to verify information using non-partisan sources like FactCheck.org, Snopes.com, and Politifact for political news. Respected news sources adhere to a set of industry guidelines and journalistic ethics, including supporting facts, before publishing a story—steer them to your preferred news source.
Teach kids to think before they share too. In the Digital Age, online readers have had to become their own fact checkers. Ask kids to verify facts before passing on any online information.
2. Teach Digital Empathy
Talk to your kids about empathy too. Digital literacy also means knowing the difference between rumor, opinion, and fact. Encourage them to picture themselves in someone else’s shoes to understand that person’s feelings and motivations. This may seem an abstract concept when teaching about fake news, but coaxing your kids to look beyond the words on the screen to the actual motivations behind the words is an important skill. It will help them understand that online information should not be taken as is at face value.
Learning empathy will also help your kids to be good digital citizens and discourage cyberbullying. Making kids aware of their feelings and how they respond to various online interactions, good and bad, is a big part of building self-awareness. Talk to kids about their online experiences and make them aware how their online actions can affect how other people feel, how they can show more compassion, and in general practice online kindness. Check out Circle’s story on helping kids show up in social media for more ways to talk to kids about their online encounters.
3. Use Parental Controls Like Circle
As you and your kid or teen discover untrustworthy sites, parental controls like Circle can help you filter out clickbait and fake news by blocking certain sites with Circle’s Filter feature. “The goal is to communicate that you care about your child and you want to help them and you’re there,” says Bryan. “Tools like Circle’s parental controls support parents in their role as teacher and guide for their kids.”
For more information on teaching digital literacy, check out these sources:
What Is Digital Literacy? (Common Sense Media)
Teach Your Kids to Detect Fake News and Photos (National Geographic)
How False News Can Spread (TED-Ed video)
Evaluating Sources in a ‘Post-Truth’ World: Ideas for Teaching and Learning About Fake News (New York Times)
Empathy Lesson Plans for Middle School (Applied Educational Systems)
News Literacy Project