Knowledge is our greatest tool when facing difficult challenges. Unfortunately, misinformation is often prevalent during times of concern. Staying informed is crucial, and it’s important to talk to your kids about current events and how they can learn to make critical evaluations about what they see and hear while correctly identifying valid sources for their information.
Fact versus opinion. In today’s world, it’s incredibly easy for people to share their opinions with others using social media platforms as an open microphone. Although this is a great way to keep people connected and stimulate conversation, it’s also important to remember that not everything we read online is necessarily true. A person doesn’t have to have any qualifications to share a status update or like a post, and it can be helpful to remind ourselves of this when trying to filter out information that isn’t credible. Social media is a powerful tool, but these platforms also make it easy to amplify biased opinions and false statements. Unless it’s coming from an official government agency (like the Center for Disease Control’s official account, for instance), it’s best to take everything you read on social media with a grain of salt.
Learn how to identify valid sources. With all the sources of information we are exposed to on a daily basis, it’s more important than ever for kids to learn how to identify credibility. Unfortunately there isn’t a sure-fire way to validate information, but we can use reasoning to make an educated determination about whether or not something is factual and credible. With the internet being a primary source of research for today’s students, it’s a good idea to keep a few basic guidelines in mind:
- Websites with certain domain name suffixes – namely .edu, .gov, and .org – are more likely to contain credible information. This doesn’t mean that standard .com addresses shouldn’t be trusted, but it’s worth knowing that certain web suffixes are reserved for credible institutions.
- Consider where the information originates. If an article comes from a respected periodical or professional journal, it’s more likely to have credibility. Many of these articles are edited and peer-reviewed by multiple individuals prior to publishing. On the other hand, an editorial or opinion piece can be solely based on the convictions of a single person. Help your kids to understand the distinction between credible sources and individual opinions.
- Question everything. Asking for clarification is always a good approach, and we should encourage our kids to critically evaluate new information as it comes in. In science, we always seek to disprove ourselves – how else can we really know if something is true? We should always ask questions, dig deeper, and adjust our beliefs accordingly based on the evidence.
Encourage independent research and fact-checking. In some ways, being skeptical can be a good thing when approaching mass media. As the old saying goes, “You can’t believe everything you hear.” If your child is curious about the validity of a piece of information, encourage them to research it for themselves. Where did it come from? Who said it? Do they have anything to lose or gain from the outcome? Ask critical questions to determine if a source is valid. This process of verifying information yourself is also excellent student practice for research papers and science projects!