Talking To Your Teen About Online Misinformation

Online Misinformation
White Supremacists. Antifa. ISIS. What do all three movements have in common? Recruiting young people through social media platforms.

Using the latest research on misinformation and teens, this article will help you understand how you can help your teen navigate the tricky scene that is the proliferation of information. Learn some strategies to help your teen critically think about things such as conspiracy theories and online radicalization. However, at times, a troubled teen can become too deeply involved in online misinformation which may lead to behavior that can lead to trouble with the law in which the help of a Residential Treatment Center, such as Liahona Treatment Center, can help.

Online Misinformation: The Online Minefield

If you’ve ever seen the Netflix show documentary-drama Social Dilemma, you know that digital content and information has a good and bad side.

The Benefits Of online Digital Content:

  • Learning more about the world they live in.
  • Connecting with people from diverse backgrounds.
  • Getting to share your teen to share their own opinions and views.
  • Getting your teen to express themselves through text, audio, and video.
  • Helping your teen be ready for the future by becoming computer literate.

But information found online also has a very toxic side. That’s where misinformation comes in. Misinformation is content or information that is skewed and unreliable. Misinformation comes from the filtering and shaping of content. Most people are only viewing content that is filtered through a biased lens and content that is heavily biased.

The Dark Sides Of Online Digital Content:

  • Various browsers and apps keep track of your history, so they are aware of the views and content that you might be interested in, creating what is called an Echo Chamber. So, rather retrieving a variety of views and learning more about different viewpoints, you’re getting content that already reinforces and seeks to shape what you already know.
  • These apps and browsers ultimately see you only as a consumer or metric. They are interested in increasing their consumer population through many toxic and problematic methods.
  • Online content exposes your teen to predators. Later in this article, you’ll learn about how online content is used to radicalize troubled teens, especially teen boys.
  • Digital content, when navigated alone by your teen, can cause more confusion and harm than it addresses.
  • Groups can target vulnerable suspects, particularly young male teens, and become a voice of reason for them. Hate groups are known for reaching potential members by implementing this tactic.

Online Radicalization: When Misinformation is a Click Away

To help you understand just how dangerous it is for your teen to navigate online content alone, here are two cases of when teen girls and boys were radicalized by various groups. Some of these youths were troubled teens but most came from loving families. Some of these teens also came from a variety of backgrounds but were radicalized by groups like the far left and far right.

A Taste of the Far Left: The Case of Antifa

If you’ve ever listened to conversations about race on TV or online, then you’ve probably heard of Antifa. Antifa is an organization that claims to support anti-fascism. In return, they support causes such anti-racism, animal rights, and environmental causes.

But Antifa also has a dark side. For instance, Antifa members have been associated with attacking counter-protesters at rallies and even targeting those who don’t agree with them by waging a smear campaign. You might be wondering, well, what does that have to do with my teen? The answer is a lot.

For example, Teen Vogue, a magazine that targets teens, shared an article on Antifa that generated a lot of controversy from all types of groups. This article attempted to present the history and politics of Antifa from the perspective of those in favor of it. The problem with articles like these is that it doesn’t present a variety of viewpoints and is biased. So, while your teen should be aware of politics and social injustice, they should also be aware of the dark side of groups that claim to support equality.

The Far Right: Sympathizing with Hate Groups

Other groups that target teens are hate groups. Recognizing the frustrations that young people feel, especially troubled teens, hate groups of all types target these youths for their purposes. For example, the El Paso shooter Patrick Wood, a 21-year old at that time, who targeted Latino shoppers at a Walmart is suspected of writing and posting a manifesto in support of white supremacy shortly before the shooting.

What this example and countless others demonstrate is how susceptible people, especially teens are to misinformation that is available online.

Talking To Your Teen About Misinformation

There are many ways to talk to your teen about online misinformation. Here are some tips to help you.

  • Have that uncomfortable conversation you’ve been avoiding.
    • Many parents assume that their teen is too young to understand things like politics, economics, and diversity. But when you choose to not talk about these things, you leave the room for your teen to learn about them through content that they can get a hold of: usually, digital content that is heavily biased.
  • Encourage critical thinking.
    • Share content that you feel is appropriate for your teen. Ask them what they think of the content. Ask them the hidden biases or assumptions within the content. This will show your teen that you trust them with difficult information while also building their confidence in themselves and you.
  • Share what’s important to you with your teen and find out what’s important to them.
    • Sometimes, parents would like their teen to follow in their footsteps when it comes to the views their child should have. While the majority of research supports the idea that young adults tend to eventually grow into holding their family of origins viewpoints, you have to give your child room to grow and hold opinions that you might not agree with. Don’t assume that your child knows what's important to you and vice versa.

As you talk to your child, you’ll notice that they do value your opinion, even if they seem to outwardly reject it. The key point though is allowing them to express themselves to you and giving them room to be themselves. Teens ultimately want to feel like they are heard and seen, and one way to do that is by letting them express their opinions. Teens also value structure, so providing feedback and tools to navigating online content can help them feel more confident in themselves and you.

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