By Joanna Nesbit
Current events for teens aren’t always a pressing issue. My daughter has been a newshound since middle school, with a preference for The New York Times and The Atlantic.
Her teen brother, on the other hand, says “I see the news,” but he can’t specifically say where he learns about current events. Aside from occasionally listening to and discussing National Public Radio stories with me, he gravitates to YouTube and Instagram when it’s up to him.
Current Events For Teens
He’s not alone in choosing to skip traditional news. According to a recent survey by Common Sense Media, when asked about current events for teens, 66 percent of kids ages 10-18 trusted their parents as a news source more than any other. Yet, when asked their preferred news source, their most popular answer is social media, with family and traditional media lagging behind.
Are teenagers reading reliable content in the new media? As it turns out, our kids are not exactly sure. While 70% of students say consuming the news makes them feel smart and knowledgeable, 44 percent of teens say they have trouble distinguishing real news from fake news.
A 2016 Stanford study turned up similar results regarding media literacy. Middle schoolers couldn’t spot the difference between news and advertiser content and didn’t know why paid-for content would have a bias.
Media Literacy For Teens
Media literacy educator Belinha De Abreu, who teaches research skills and how to evaluate information, also questions teens’ ability to spot true news when they come across it in their social media feeds. With today’s talking heads constantly analyzing 24/7 news cycles, kids have a hard time distinguishing opinion from fact. “Teens don’t have a good way of filtering information because there’s too much coming at them,” she says.
Experts agree that parents play a primary role in helping kids understand what’s accurate. According to Common Sense Media, kids need adults to effectively model how to consume news and think critically about sources. Give your children the opportunity to discuss different points of view and assess media biases. Try picking a current event with your teen. Read about the same topic on two or more news outlets, then compare how facts are presented. Then discuss how bias, opinion, or even desire to mislead can affect what they read on the page—or, more likely, online.
Ultimately, kids need our help evaluating and digesting the news, and they trust us to provide that guidance. That may be more than my teenage son is willing to admit. So it looks like more mother-son news dates may be in our future.
Joanna Nesbit is a freelance writer based in the Pacific Northwest. She writes frequently about parenting and her work has appeared in The Washington Post, Family Fun, Parenting, and elsewhere.