Common Sense MediaBy Regan McMahon, Common Sense Media editor
Today, when the latest campaign trail gaffe or political scandal goes viral, your kids will likely hear about it before you do. How will they know whether a claim or a charge is based in fact, an unsubstantiated smear, or typical campaign overstatement?
That's where you come in. Nearly half of young people ages 15-25 get news at least once a week from family and friends via Twitter or Facebook, according to a study by the University of Chicago. And they can't necessarily tell fact from fiction. One of the study's conclusions: "Youth must learn how to judge the credibility of online information and how to find divergent views on varied issues."
The media plays a huge role in our country's political process. And with today's 24/7 news cycle, those effects are magnified. On the plus side, there are plenty of age-appropriate resources at your fingertips, some of which we've listed below. Here's how you can help your kids become media-savvy participants in democracy.
Watch, Read, and Learn
Take advantage of websites that deliver the news in a tone that's sensible -- not shrill.
Elementary school kids:Turn to news sources designed for kids, such as HTE Kids News and TIME for Kids. These news websites break down the events of the day in kid-friendly terms, while avoiding stuff you probably won't want them exposed to.
Middle school kids: Watch one or more of the many televised candidate debates, and discuss the issues during the commercials and after it's over. Ask your kid: Who do you think won, and why? Did the moderator challenge the candidates or just let them spout their talking points? For age-appropriate analysis, visit Nick News, an award-winning current events site that specializes in "respectful and direct" communication to kids.
High school kids: Watch news and debates together and compare the media coverage on different shows and networks. Do reporters, news anchors, and opinion shows spend too much time on distractions that heat up the news cycle instead of the real issues facing our country? Check the credibility of candidates' claims at the nonpartisan site factcheck.org, and visit the YouTube Elections Hub for a variety of perspectives.
Help your kids investigate advertising claims and persuasive polls to determine the truth for themselves.
Elementary school kids: When a political ad comes on TV or is stripped across or down the side of a computer screen, talk to your kid about the claims the ad is making and how music and visuals are used to persuade viewers. Talk about why there are so many negative ads and why they work. The Scholastic Kids Press Corps' Election 2012 section is great for elementary aged kids, because it lays out each candidate's position in plain language.
Middle school kids: Talk about political advertising. How is a political ad like a regular commercial for a product? Are they selling a candidate just like they sell cereal? Who paid for the ad you're watching? Can political ads actually influence the outcome of an election? Watch political movies to see how fictional political strategies mirror real-life ones.
High school kids: A lot of what drives momentum in campaigns are the latest poll results, which appear on websites as news. Your family may be getting calls at home from pollsters or one of the campaigns asking who you'll vote for. Do you think polls influence the news? Are polls accurate predictors of election-day results? Send teens to Reddit, where they can share, rank, and discuss the news.
Get Excited About the Process
Don't let negativity color your kids' perceptions. Seek out positive ways for them to experience the political season.
Elementary school kids: Read kid-friendly books about American politics, such as Bad Kitty for President, which does a surprisingly good job of explaining the U.S. political system, and Where Was Patrick Henry on the 29th of May? and Why Don't You Get a Horse, Sam Adams?, which offer a taste of Colonial-era politics.
Middle school kids: Draw a link between your kids' experience of student body elections or mock presidential elections at school and those on the state and national level. Are elections just a popularity contest, or does someone win because he or she has the best ideas? Visit the One Vote 2012 section at Channel One News to learn more about the candidates' backgrounds and positions. Bonus: The site is currently looking for teens to report and blog for its news show. Or try the video game The Political Machine 2012, a political simulation/strategy game that lets players get a feel for campaign life.
High school kids: Social media is increasingly influential in elections. If your kids get a post or tweet that's outrageous, funny, or crude -- a joke, video clip, meme (picture with caption), or link to an article or website -- they may re-tweet it, "like" it, or become a "fan" within seconds, casually promoting a partisan viewpoint and unwittingly becoming a target of advertisers and politicians. Let your kids know the risks, and remind them of the most basic lesson, as true in new media as in old: Don't believe everything you read. Encourage them to get out from behind their computers with Rock the Vote, which uses music and pop culture to engage teens.
About Common Sense Media
Common Sense Media is dedicated to improving the lives of kids and families by providing the trustworthy information, education, and independent voice they need to thrive in a world of media and technology. We exist because our kids are growing up in a culture that profoundly impacts their physical, social, and emotional well-being. We provide families with the advice and media reviews they need in order to make the best choices for their children. Through our education programs and policy efforts, Common Sense Media empowers parents, educators, and young people to become knowledgeable and responsible digital citizens. For more information, go to:www.commonsense.org.