Q: I want my school-age children to know what’s going on in the world, but I’m worried that social-media news posts might mislead or upset them. How can they learn safely online?
According to Karen Petty, chair of family sciences at Texas Women’s University, in Denton, TX, the first step to introducing your kids to world events is to stay up to date on what they’re watching and listening to. Instead of immediately flipping to your favorite news channel or website when you get home, ask your kids what they’d like to check out. “Watch at a close distance without commentary, but be open for possible questions and dialogue,” she says.
When it comes to frightening events, Petty says to focus on how people are trying to help during the tragedy. She uses the example of a devastating tornado. “Talk about the cleanup progress,” for instance, “or how strong the winds during a tornado can become. That restarts the conversation about safety during natural disasters every time.”
But remember: Your reaction to the news often influences how your kids will react. “When your child sees you’re not being honest about how you feel, it makes them even more scared,” says Carole Lieberman M.D., media psychiatrist and author of LIONS and TIGERS and TERRORISTS, Oh My! How to Protect Your Child in a Time of Terror. “We all wish we could provide our kids with a world made up of puppies and rainbows, but that isn’t today’s reality.” So don’t hold in your true feelings and opinions, but leave room for plenty of discussion.
Even once your family is expert at confronting tragic events, there’s still fake news to consider. How do you keep your kids from reading or hearing inaccurate info?
Ana Homayoun, social-media expert and author of Social Media Wellness: Helping Teens and Tweens Thrive in an Unbalanced Digital World, says to work on your kids’ patience and critical-thinking skills so they can better evaluate whether a news source is trustworthy.
“Patience means taking the time to read through articles rather than immediately establishing [headlines] as fact, and clicking through to learn more about the author,” she says. Reading sites’ About Us pages can also be useful. Teach your child how to “identify whether the author has an objective or subjective point of view ... and the author’s intent for writing the work.” A Google search might reveal the writer’s motivations, like ties to organizations and political parties.
One shortcut: “Help kids come up with their top 10 news sources to filter for reputable information,” Homayoun adds. Then they can do less legwork when they come across news from those vetted sources.