Critical thinking without media overload. It’s possible. (image: Kids in America)
We want to raise kids to be informed and active citizens without subjecting them to an information overload or current events-related despair. Here some activities and resources to make that easier.
1. Let current events become a regular topic. Just as you’d bring up any other subject that interests you, talk about topical issues in front of your kids. This is easy to do informally while driving or sitting around the dinner table.
2. Welcome their interests and opinions without trying to push your point of view. As they get older, help them see that using facts to bolster their talking points helps to convince others.
3. Model civil discourse. When people who disagree can engage in conversations with respect and integrity, they’re on the way to creating solutions. This is true in backyard squabbles, regional disputes, and diplomatic negotiations. A key is finding common ground. That happens after every person involved has access to the same information and feels that their input is understood. This is a critical skill to practice. Make it a part of your daily life for smaller issues so you can more easily use it when harder issues arise. Notice it in use by individuals and groups around the world.
4. Emphasize accurate and varied information sources so kids are equipped to think for themselves rather than led by popular opinion.
5. Hang a laminated world map on the wall. Notice where news happens and where friends travel. Mark places you’d like to go. Whiteboard markers wipe off this surface, so it’s easy to write directly on oceans and continents. This is also a subversive way to advance geographical knowledge.
6. Make timelines of your lives. Once kids have added details to their timelines such as when they lost the first tooth, got a dog, and moved into a new neighborhood help them go back to add events and discoveries that happened the same time. Continue the timeline on toward the future, speculating where you will live, what you will do, and what will be happening in the world around you. Getting kids to predict the future gives a lot of insight into their worldview. You can also make a timeline for a grandparent, filling in newsworthy events, particularly those impacting the person’s life.
7. Get to know logical fallacies like guilt by association, appeal to fear, or red herring. By avoiding fallacies you can craft well-reasoned opinions while pointing out fallacies to deconstruct faulty arguments. Write some of the most common fallacies on place mats you use everyday or hang a list on the refrigerator to defuse squabbles. Get everyone involved by playing Logic Shrink, an entirely free game you can enjoy as you choose (basically everyone shouts out logical fallacies as they notice them committed by politicians, pundits, and others). Enjoy Ali Almossawi’s wonderful book An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments, free online and also available hardcover or audio format.
8. Pay attention to positive news. Don’t let the family news diet center heavily on the negative. Subscribe to high quality children’s magazines such as Muse, Skipping Stones, Odyssey, New Moon Girls, and Kazoo. Get updates from KarmaTube and Good News Network. Talk about what kids have seen or heard that makes them feel optimistic.
9. Find age-appropriate news sources. Try Scholastic News, DoGo News, and the similarly named GoGo News, Kid’s Post (offered by The Washington Post), National Geographic Kids, News-o-Matic, and Time for Kids. Teens are likely to enjoy the news-based wit of The Daily Show and Last Week Tonight.
10. Understand media input. There’s a heavy emphasis on celebrity worship, superficial attractiveness, material possessions, and violent use of power. As much as possible, counteract this through wise use family policies and a regular technology sabbath. There are excellent sources of information on media literacy including Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, Media Smarts, Center for Media Literacy, and National Association for Media Literacy Education.
11.Talk about the impact of marketing on daily decision-making. Point out product placements in movies, video games, and television shows. Notice how ads are targeted to specific markets. Talk about the way attractiveness is portrayed and the effect on self-image. Find out how marketing information is gathered on potential customers. Read Made You Look: How Advertising Works and Why You Should Know by Shari Graydon (for kids) and Can’t Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel by Jean Kilbourne.
12. Analyze the news. Check out the same story from different information outlets, maybe a major television station, a major newspaper, an alternative newspaper or site, social media, or blog commentary. Notice what angles are reflected differently and what’s missing from a single news source. Is the media the message? Is there a commercial slant? Find out what’s behind the reporting with Source Watch which tracks the people and organizations shaping our public agenda and PR Watch which exposes public relations spin and propaganda.
13. Open up to reporting and commentary from other countries. PEARL World Youth News is an online international news service managed by students from around the world. OneWorld is a global information network designed to link people who see and share the news. Survival International and Cultural Survival are organizations sharing news about and advocating for the rights of indigenous peoples around the world. And check out links to dozens of links to far-flung news sources.
14. Play video games. Socially responsible games combine challenges with real life lessons about current situations. (Some are pretty heavy on the message.) Check out listings at Games for Change.
15. Report your own news. Capture the sights and sounds of your family, neighborhood, or travels in a family newspaper, blog, or video diary.
16. Consider the source. Watch the same topics covered in different news shows, such as conservative Fox and Friends versus liberal Rachel Maddow. Weigh assertions made by leaders in politics or business against historical example. Look up what a politician or pundit said on the topic years ago compared to now.
17. Look at coverage. Why are some stories headliners, others barely covered, and still others never reported? You might consider immediacy, negative impact (“bad” sells better than good), celebrity connection, and surprise factor. What about stories Project Censored claims aren’t covered by mainstream outlets?
18.Think globally. Notice where toys, clothing and other household purchases are made, perhaps locating the country of origin on a map. Focus your interest on an area in the world, paying attention to the news, weather, and celebrations taking place there. Put into place suggestions found in Growing Up Global: Raising Children to Be At Home in the World by Homa Sabet Tavangar and consider changes suggested in The New Global Student by Maya Frost. Check out the information shared by the United Nations Cyber School Bus.
19. Connect with people around the world. Talk about issues with people on forums and social media. Pose and answer questions on Dropping Knowledge, an incredible resource where there are dozens of current discussions such as, “Why don’t schools teach us to form our own opinions?” and “Would a universal language help us get along?”
20. Compete. Student Cam is C-SPAN’s annual documentary competition for young people. We The People hosts competitions for middle school and high school students. Do Something honors young volunteers. Academic WorldQuest is a team game testing competitors’ knowledge of international affairs, geography, history, and culture.
21. Host an international visitor. (Here’s what happened when we did just that.) You might welcome an exchange student through well-established programs such as American Field Service, Youth for Understanding, Rotary Youth Exchange, or World Exchange. A short-term stay by a visiting professional might be more convenient, through Fulbright Scholar Program or National Council for International Visitors.