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3 tips to help with adolescents and misinformation


“Misinformation” generally refers to inaccurate statements in the media that may or may not be intended to mislead the audience.

The spread of misinformation has been compounded by our fast, easy, low-cost access to online content and social media.

Misinformation causes damage faster than it can be fixed, with false beliefs persisting even after the information is corrected and accurate.

For example, a 2020 study found that once misinformation was posted on Twitter, it took seven days for denial tweets to match the number of misinformation tweets.

While preadolescents and teens tend to have technological knowledge and aside from the latest media trends, they are still impressionable and susceptible to peer pressure.

Research has shown that even when they suspect that the information available may not be accurate, they will share it online if their friends do the same.

In fact, teens are more like young children than adults in their susceptibility to misinformation. Preteens and adolescents can struggle to discern what is real and what is not, especially on highly controversial topics such as conspiracy theories, social policies, and political issues.

In order to deal with misinformation effectively, it is crucial that parents cultivate analytical thinking through simple and reliable advice.

By using the following three rules, you and your preteen will begin to develop strategies for discerning accurate misinformation information.

The “Fact-Finding Attempts” Rule Teach your preteen or teen to independently examine whether the media content has shown clear attempts to verify facts, or at least question whether the reported events have been verified.

This can be done by simply cross-checking the same information on different websites or social media channels, reading the self-claimed values ​​and mission of the source, and checking the audience’s reactions to these self-affirmations.

Fact-checking is even more relevant for videos based on comments on social media (such as YouTube or TikTok) that combine facts and opinions from online influencers.

This content is often produced at an accelerated rate to capture viral issues and is sometimes aimed at younger consumers, with little or no effort to verify the facts.

In case you and your child have time and want to take a closer look at whether a particular news item has been verified, use some of the online fact-checking tools here. By trial and error, select the tools that work best for you.

Although it takes more time, this process will help build your family’s accumulated knowledge about the different ways in which scientists and educators have fought misinformation.

The rule of “well-rounded conversations” Very susceptible to peer pressure, preadolescents and teens will share content that may be fake but has been shared by their friends, for fear of being ridiculed for being strangers.

Passive exchange with little thought, rather than malicious actors, could be the most important problem in spreading misinformation.

Talk to your child about the data they have shared online, which you can also see. Listen to his story. Then, in a constructive and gentle way, challenge them to be more aware when it comes to sharing their posts online if you think they haven’t thought about the whole process.

Most importantly, tell your child that when they share something online, they have become another “source” of information (such as a website or social media channel) whose credibility is now open to judgment of other people even without them knowing it.

Educate your child or teen that the media landscape is complicated, that different people may have different opinions, and that they may take some ideas and throw in others.

If you have any questions about whether a medium is misinformation, encourage them to refrain from sharing.

The rule of “specific authority figures” In addition to websites and social media as sources of information, authority references are another point of contact that help preadolescents and teens decide if they can trust the message.

Not all authority references are reliable, or they are both reliable and persuasive.

The misinformation related to COVID-19 that was circulated on Twitter was found to include non-specific authority references such as “Taiwanese experts” or “a medical friend.”

In addition, an individual’s attitude toward authority figures plays an important role in the way people perceive and endorse misinformation. Even when the information comes from legitimate sources of authority, people are likely to fail if they have little confidence in authority.

Encourage your child to wonder why they find certain authority figures online more reliable than others.

Show your child ways to discern more legitimate experts by focusing on relevant, expert-specific credentials. Combine this rule with rules 1 and 2 above if you can.

For example, the authority figure may be presented as a “Researcher” or a “Doctor,” with images of the white coat of a laboratory scientist or doctor.

But if your credentials for science or medical experience are not clearly specified or unrelated to conversations, encourage your child to do more cross-checking before deciding whether to trust them.

Could you encourage your child to ask further: “Does this expert demonstrate clear attempts to verify the facts of the reported events?” or, “Does this expert promote a full discussion on this divided issue rather than an absolutist point of view?”

Essentially, you want to cultivate analytical skills in your preadolescent or teen so that they become independent and sophisticated consumers.

This task is not a one-way street. As your child grows and technology continues to change, they may become even more sophisticated media consumers than you!

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