7 Tips to Teach Your Kids News Literacy

This article is part of a series on news literacy, to educate readers to better judge the reliability of news reports and other sources of information.

Teaching our children news literacy is tricky. Most parents don’t fully grasp it, so gauging kids’ growth isn’t simple. More vexing is the ever-changing technology: our kids are often more comfortable with it than we are.

We want our children to know what’s happening in our communities and around the world. A healthy democratic society needs well-informed citizens to govern itself, so teaching our kids to be responsible citizens includes the critical thinking skills to evaluate news.

So how do we teach news literacy to our kids?

As a long-time journalist, media monitor and parent, here are my seven tips.

1. Model the news habits you want your kids to emulate.

WHY: Change begins with ourselves. You are the biggest role model in your kids’ lives. Seeing someone behave a certain way is more powerful than describing those habits. It will force you to improve your own news habits. If kids see that you don’t really take news literacy seriously, neither will they.

HOW: In a previous article, I elaborated on The 7 News Literacy Habits You Need To Develop. Among the key tips:

  • Set aside your personal biases when reading or watching news. Be open to information that challenges your assumptions. View news as a critical thinking exercise, not as a passive experience.
  • Keep your focus on news that’s important to you, spend less time on less important stories, and cut out the clickbait.
  • Diversify your news sources.
  • Learn to distinguish between news, opinion, entertainment, advertising, satire, and propaganda, as well as other forms of information.
  • Identify what’s new in a story and why this story is news now.
  • If you can’t set aside your personal biases, at least be aware of them.

For more detail and practical tips, see News Literacy: The 7 News Habits You Need to Develop.

2. Give your children opportunities to follow the news.

WHY: Kids are busy — when they’re not in school, they need homework time, playtime, dinnertime, bathtime, storytime, bedtime, etc. Many children would probably follow their curiosity for news if only given an opportunity.

HOW: You’ll have to judge what’s age-appropriate for your kids.

  • Make sure the newspaper (or certain sections of it) are available to the kids to peruse.
  • Give your kids the opportunity to watch TV news with you.
  • Bookmark some news sites and encourage your kids to go there.
  • Some news sites have special sections for kid-friendly content, such as the Washington Post, BBC, CBC and ABC News (Australia). (These sites are listed only to illustrate the possible content available for children; HonestReporting does not necessarily endorse them.)
  • Ask your kids’ teachers about discussions of current events and related curriculum.

news literacy kids
3. Help your kids distinguish between news and opinion.

WHY Differentiating between facts and opinion is a basic critical thinking skill. Unfortunately, social media frequently blurs the distinctions.

HOW: Web sites such as Teaching and Teachnology offer some practical activities.

  • Give children a series of statements expressing facts or opinions and ask them to identify which is which.
  • Ask kids to identify books where facts can be found (encyclopedia, dictionary, almanac, atlas, text books, Guinness Book of World Records, etc.) and where opinions might be found (autobiographies, self-help books, novels, journals, etc.)
  • Explore a newspaper with your children and ask them to identify which sections are factual and which ones are opinion. Be thorough and discuss sections such as restaurant reviews, weather reports, sports articles, obituaries, advice columns, wedding announcements, etc. Discuss the advertisements too.
  • Show children photos of different items (a bicycle, a plate of cookies, a bird, etc.) and ask them to make factual statements about the image (the bicycle is red, etc.) and opinions about the image (the bird is pretty, etc.)

See more content in HonestReporting’s News Literacy section, including 5 Tips For Sharing News Responsibly on Social Media

4. Proactively chat with your kids about important news stories.

WHY: It’s important to get a sense of what our children consider important, what they know and where they know it from.

HOW: At first glance, these tips might make you feel a little vulnerable, but they worked for me.

  • Talk about what’s in the news with your kids on a level they can understand. You’re not “dumbing down” the news  — you’re helping your children process the stories of the day by giving them context and meaning.
  • If there’s a sensitive story that your children may be hearing about, ask yourself if there’s an age-appropriate teachable moment you can proactively raise. It’s often better for kids to hear about sensitive stories from you rather than from other kids, mass media, or strangers. Anticipate what they’ll want to know and treat their curiosity with respect, not fear.
  • Acknowledging gaps in your own knowledge of a news story teaches honesty, integrity and humility.

Worth watching: Common Sense Education put together 5 Essential Media Literacy Questions for Kids

5. Discuss the difference between established news services other types of publishers.

WHY: If kids are to become the critical thinkers we hope them to be, they have to understand that there are professional standards of journalism, that some news services meet those standards and that others don’t. They also have to understand how to judge what’s reliable and what to do if they’re in doubt.

HOW:

  • Explain that mass media refers to any medium of communication designed to reach masses of people, such as newspapers and magazines, TV and radio, web sites, messaging apps and email lists.
  • Whatever the method of delivering the information, mainstream news services strive for truthfulness, accuracy, objectivity, impartiality, fairness, and public accountability in the way information is gathered and shared.
  • Some people aren’t careful with fact-checking what they report or share.
  • When encountering a story for the first time on social media, see if anyone reputable has also reported it.
  • Encourage your kids to create their own media content.
  • News is ongoing: Kids needs to understand that reporters won’t have all the facts at once, and that even honest journalists can make mistakes. So get more information before making up your mind about a new story.
  • Encourage children to read news stories on the original site where an article was published. Diane Shipley explains why:

Compounding the problem is the way young people use the internet. Much of the news they do consume comes through intermediaries, chief among them YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, according to research from Common Sense Media. These networks often muddy the source of information, or make all outlets look similar, robbing the audience of visual cues to help them differentiate reliable and less-reliable sources. It’s worth remembering that adults have trouble identifying fake news in this environment as well.

news literacy mass media

6. Don’t go overboard in criticizing the media to your kids.

WHY: To quote Peter Adams, senior vice president of education at the non-profit The News Literacy Project, “One mistake a lot of people make is to give the impression that all information is created with an ulterior motive. We don’t want kids to be naive, but we don’t want them to be cynical, either.”

HOW:

  • Remind your kids (and yourself) of the importance of a free press (even if it’s imperfect).
  • Have more realistic expectations of the media.
  • When criticizing the news industry, do it in a constructive, measured way.

See more of HonestReporting’s News Literacy section, including The 8 Categories of Media Bias

7. Give your kids space to make up their own minds.

WHY: If you want to your kids to respect other peoples’ opinions and learn to “agree to disagree,” you have to start by encouraging and honoring their views. Respect in your relationships builds feelings of trust, safety, and wellbeing.

HOW:

  • Show your children you value their opinion by asking them what they think about things in their lives that aren’t related to news.
  • Listen to others when they speak.
  • Don’t pressure a child to express an opinion about something if he or she doesn’t want to.
  • Don’t insult or mock people who are different or have other points of view.

Featured image: vector by freepik.com; boy CC BY makelessnoise; mass media CC0 Pixabay with additions by PinClipArt, Wikimedia Commons, Pixabay and PngImg;

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