Ask the nearest teen the last time they read a newspaper. If they can even answer you after rolling their eyes and commenting on how old you are, they will say “Uhhh…. never?” But don’t mistake this for apathy — kids today are more in tune with the news than ever. News comes to them on their turf — social media — and they are well-informed and passionate about real issues. It’s important to help our kids understand and process what they are learning, especially when we can’t filter all the news they hear.
Our kids don’t have to sit down and watch the evening news with us to know what’s going on in the world. Just like they have instant access to what all of their BFFs, plus a few celebs, ate for dinner (in too much detail), they also have all the day’s news at the touch of a button. This no-holds-barred method of receiving the news is a double-edged sword for parents in the digital age.
According to a recently released study from Common Sense Census, on average, American teens use media for about nine hours per day — NOT including the time they spend using a computer for homework! At least we know that they’re not only posting selfies in Instagram. The truth is, there’s a world of information at our kids’ fingertips and even though they are mostly using these miraculous little devices for “fun,” they are also learning more and becoming more informed citizens of the world while they’re at it.
Over two-thirds of teens surveyed say that watching or reading news makes them feel smart and knowledgeable, and half of the children surveyed feel that keeping up with the news helps them feel prepared to make a difference in their communities. What an incredible, organic way to build self-confidence in our teens!
But not so fast, parents. This study also finds that kids are easily fooled by fake news they find online. We still have to guide our children through some murky waters when it comes to what news they are consuming online. As always, it is important to know what sources our kids are turning to for their news. Given today’s media environment, finding the truth in many reports can be difficult for even seasoned adults.
Make a point to regularly ask your girl what news items sparked her interest that day. Be sure that your tone is more “interested” than “inquisitorial” so that she understands that you value her take and want to have an honest conversation about these topics. If you feel she might have gotten some overly biased reports, give her the tools to check out that news story she read. This is a habit all of us could benefit from. (A great tool for checking political stories in the U.S. is politifact.com, which won a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the 2008 presidential election.)
Just a decade ago, parents had more say in what news their kids knew and how they learned it. It sounds almost quaint that parents got to decide when, how and what to tell their tweens about potentially upsetting news stories. We know that news travels at the speed of light now, and most likely our kids hear the news before we get the chance to filter it. This means that keeping those communication lines open before any possibly scary news happens is the best way to let her know she can come to you.
Our kids are incredible little sponges, soaking up massive amounts of information every day! It is amazing that they live in a time that allows them to learn anything at anytime. And for all the scary things that entails, we get some positive ones as well — kids who are learning to be not just good digital citizens, but also informed and involved citizens of the world.