It’s a parent’s responsibility to protect their children from harm, and that includes any potential dangers they might encounter online. Yet some online issues are a bit more abstract than others. After all, it’s one thing to keep your kid safe from cyberbullies or internet porn, but how do you protect them from misinformation? While the internet is an essential resource for our modern lives, it is also home to hoaxes, fake news, and other forms of deception. It is vital that parents be aware of the danger here, taking steps so that both they and their children are more aware of how people try to deceive them online.

Why Is It Important To Protect Kids From False Information?

Simply put, it is that kids recognize the dangers of fake news and false information because it will ensure that they have a more balanced view of the world around them. By being made aware of the questionable sources out there and helping them recognize them, children will have better access to reliable information, which is important for both their personal lives and their education. Also, encouraging them to be more digitally literate and critically minded also better positions children to express themselves online while considering different viewpoints.

How Can You Help Them Spot False Information?

Given the massive scale of the internet and the sheer amount of misinformation out there, it is virtually impossible to avoid false information online. So the next best thing is to teach children how to be more aware of it. There are several steps you can take to help them be more critical of what they see or read online, which in turn will help them make smarter choices and have a better understanding of the world.

  • Encourage them to be critical and alert consumers. So much of how we live our lives on the internet quietly encourages us to consume information without thinking about it for long. This means we often miss obviously misleading information designed to manipulate our thinking. Teach your kids to always be critical of what they view and read online, asking themselves who benefits from it and if the author is trustworthy.
  • Remind them to think twice before sharing something. Too often we see the headline of an article and immediately believe it without thinking critically. You should teach your children that, before sharing something online, they should always give it a second look and make sure the source is trustworthy.
  • Explain that no source is completely unbiased. Even if someone is trying to present “just the facts,” few people or organizations operate completely without personal bias. Even new sources can be skewed in one direction or another, some are simply more overt about it than others.
  • Teach them not to cite Wikipedia. Wikipedia is one of the most convenient resources on the internet and one that’s fairly reliable for casual research. However, schools don’t allow students to cite Wikipedia, due in part to the fact that anybody can freely edit its pages. That said, a good Wikipedia page will have links to other sources, so kids should check them out if they are doing research.
  • Suggest that they go beyond social media for news and information. For many people, social media is the primary way they spend time online, which means that it ends up being one of their main resources for news. However, most social media sites don’t have high standards in terms of what is allowed on their platform, often struggling to weed out misinformation and lies.
  • Recommend alternatives to avoid misleading content. Online video streaming services like YouTube are rife with misleading and harmful content, some of which are tailored specifically to spread lies or indoctrinate young people into certain beliefs. If you’re concerned about the type of content they are watching and their exposure to misinformation, look at apps and services with pre-screened content like PBS Kids or Disney+.

Take These Tips to Heart Yourself

The most important thing to realize when teaching your kids about misinformation and bias online is that you’re not immune to it either. There are plenty of examples of parents misunderstanding online trends, getting duped by obvious hoaxes, and being deceived by cybercriminals. So if you want your children to be more mindful of false information online, you need to be as well. When you come across something concerning on Facebook or Twitter, don’t automatically assume it’s true. Do some research, check to see if it is being reported on elsewhere, and look into fact-checking resources like Full Fact and Snopes.