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Helping our Kids Navigate Misinformation

Diane McGregor, Kitchener, ON

Now, more than ever before, we need information and news that we can count on and trust. Unfortunately, now more than ever, we are bombarded with “fake news”, rumours, dramatic stories, and opinions presented as fact–all shared in an instant through social media or other online platforms.

As parents, how can we make sense out of all of this?

More importantly, how do we help our kids make sense of what they hear and read?

There are no easy solutions …. but here are a few tips to help you when your children or teens share something that is disturbing to you.

Start with curiousity.

Rather than reacting to the information by shutting it down or denying it as true, try understanding the information from your child’s point of view. Try saying something like, “Oh, that is interesting. What do you think about it?”. Perhaps your child is already wondering if this is true or not. When you allow the time for your child or teen to come to that conclusion themselves, it enhances self esteem and critical thinking skills. 

Other questions you could ask are

Where did you hear this information? What are your thoughts about that source? Do you feel it is trustworthy?

Do you feel like it is true? If yes, what information in this do you trust? Are there some parts of it you do not trust? If no, what is leading you to think this?

Encourage a Questioning Attitude

Encourage your child or teen to think critically about the information they have heard. How can they find out more information? What do they think other people might say about this story or piece of news? What do they think the purpose of this information or story is (eg, scare people, make them angry, cause people to mistrust other information, make the story teller/info source look good?). Where did this source get their information from? Did they find this information helpful or confusing? Why do they think people say things like this?

Problem solve together.

Encourage your child or teen to learn more about the information they have heard or read. When possible, try to do this together. Suggest you go on line together to see how others are reacting to what is being said. Can you go to a trusted source to learn more (such as School Board or Public Health websites) or look up an alternative point of view from a different source?

It is ok to let your child or teen know how you think and feel about the information in question. It is important to own our opinions though and allow room for our kids to think through their own thoughts and opinions. It is also important for us to model the good thinking skills identified above. When you explore your own doubts and beliefs, and share that with your child, you are creating the pathways they need to do this themselves.

What if your child or teen is very upset by the information they have heard?

Kids are definitely coming home with stories that upset them. Stories that have them feeling afraid they will “catch Covid” or that some kind of disaster is about to fall.

When this happens, it is important to take the time to pay close attention to how they are feeling. Sit down with them, listen to their story without interruption or disclaimers (e.g., do your best to avoid jumping in with “Oh no, that is just not true!”). Use empathy to acknowledge their feelings with comments such as “I can see that this has really frightened you”. Provide comfort through hugs, sitting close or loving words. Assure your child that they are not alone in this, “We’re in this together and we will figure it out together”.

It is in these moments of connection that children and teens are best able to understand their own feelings and move toward problem solving. When any of us feel truly heard and understood, we are much better able to move toward finding solutions to our distress.

The catch phrase of the pandemic has become “In this together”. These words are never more powerful nor more important than when they are expressed in the moment of connection between a parent and child. It is in these moments that we are all truly, stronger together.




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