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How to explain fake news to children

Parenting
Washington - Children these days are big consumers of news. Unfortunately, many of them cannot tell the difference between what’s real and what’s not.

And you, dear parents, need to bridge that gap.

According to a study by Common Sense Media, a non-profit organisation that aims to help kids and parents navigate media and technology, about half of the almost 900 children surveyed (aged 10 to 18) said that following the news is important to them, and 70 percent said consuming news makes them feel “smart and knowledgeable”.

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These findings are complicated by the fact that many adults believe fake news, thanks in part to outlets whose sole purpose is to publish falsities. Picture: Washington Post

However, the part of the study that should alarm the adults in their lives: These kids are fooled by fake news. That makes them distrustful of the news media, which is the very thing that can teach them about their world.

Less than half of the children interviewed (44 percent) said they can tell fake news stories from real ones. And, of the kids who shared a news story online in the past six months, 31 percent said they had posted a story that turned out to be inaccurate or wrong.

These findings are complicated by the fact that many adults believe fake news, thanks in part to outlets whose sole purpose is to publish falsities.

The kids who are reading the news are getting it mostly from their family, teachers and/or friends (63 percent ); 49 percent are getting their news from social media or websites; while 46 percent are getting their news in traditional ways, such as print newspapers, television and radio.

The fact that more are getting their news from their parents than anywhere else means it’s important to talk to kids about what’s in the news, said James Steyer, founder and chief executive of Common Sense. Parents “should be aware that news really matters to their kids. They play a critical role and need to value truth and accuracy ”.

One factor that complicates whether tweens and teens can make sense of what they’re reading is that they prefer to get their news from social media: 39 percent chose “online news sources” (Facebook being the most common, with YouTube coming in second). But it is often social media sites that are the channels for fake news.

Another reason parents need to help kids when they read the news is that many children (63 percent) feel angry and/or depressed by the news.

That means parents need to help them translate what they read, Steyer says. “When you have people at the highest levels of government using terms like ‘alternate facts’ then it’s a real challenge for young people.” 

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