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Three things parents can do right now to help kids through chaotic times

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We are living through unsettling and chaotic times, and our kids are watching. They’re watching on their phones, tablets, and computers. And often, they are watching alone, with no adults on hand to explain, moderate, or provide comfort.

While it is easy to feel helpless in the face of the seemingly insurmountable problems our world is currently facing, there are some things every parent can do. You can help the young people in your life grapple with these chaotic times in developmentally appropriate ways.

Here are three things you can do today:

Keep Young Kids Off Social Media

Around the world, school has gone online. This means even very young kids are using technology more than ever. Additionally, busy parents working at home with kids under foot often have no choice but to leave young ones unattended online. I get it.

But, please remember, it is ridiculously easy to sign up for a social media account and every young kid knows this. According to a Common Sense Media census report released in 2016, about half of kids have some form of social media by age 12, even though most sites require users to be at least 13 years of age.

Right now social media is littered with disturbing content about coronavirus, riots, looting, and more. Graphic video footage and photos depicting violence up close and in real time can be found on Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, Facebook, and nearly every other online space you can think of. Is your 8-year old ready to watch “Minneapolis, Minnesota Riots Ultimate TikTok Compilation”?

I’m guessing, probably not.

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Teach Kids To Be Fact Checkers

In the absence of gatekeepers on social media (looking at you Facebook), it’s up to social media users to detect misinformation themselves so that: 1) They don’t believe misinformation, and 2) They don’t spread misinformation. It is vital to teach our kids how to do this too.

The New York Times reported this week that hundreds of posts are currently in circulation on Facebook and Twitter that say George Floyd is not really dead. Conspiracy theorists are having a field day spreading falsehoods about who is behind the looting and the violence too, with no concrete evidence to back up their claims. On my own Facebook feed a friend insinuated that local protesters were paid by sharing a link to a website that offered protesters for hire. Because I took the time to look, I discovered the website was fake (and asked her, nicely, not to continue sharing it). I’m currently teaching my students (via Zoom) how to do this too, as we continue our Cyber Civics lessons online. I rely on an acronym (C.R.A.P.) that I learned from Howard Rheingold’s book, Net Smart, and tell students that if they see something online that looks well, crappy, they should ask themselves: 1) Is it current?; 2) Is it reliable?; 3) Who's the author?; 4) What's its purpose or point of view? This is a simple strategy that’s easy for kids to remember.

Be Extra Kind Online.

Remind kids that everyone is on edge at the moment. That's why it's everyone's responsibility to be extra kind online. Encourage them to think twice about everything they post, and to talk to their friends if they see them posting things that are cruel or untrue. When I asked my friend about the fake website she shared online, she claimed she was being sarcastic. Remind kids this is no time for sarcasm (that never plays well online in the best of times). Most teens are already intuitively aware of this and often encourage one another to "Read the Room" if they see something that seems tone deaf or untimely.

Nevertheless, it still doesn’t hurt to remind teens (and, mostly, ourselves) not to share, like, or post violent, mean, or frightening content. Encourage them to share things that are empowering and uplifting. Remind kids that if they see friends being left out online, to reach out and include them in their conversations. If they see people being bullied or bullying others, tell them they can ask the bully to stop, give comfort to the target, or report the incident to an adult or the social media site where it happens.

Of course none of these things alone are going to cure coronavirus, stop the looting, or end systematic racism. But each one is a tiny step towards making a dark time a tiny bit brighter.

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