Kony 2012: When Do-Gooding Goes Viral

By Shira Lee Katz, Common Sense Media Reviewer

Kids viewed, shared, liked, disliked, and commented. They even criticized. By the time parents found out about Kony 2012 -- from their kids, no less -- the video had already gone viral. Way viral. Parents could only play catch-up when it came to educating themselves about generations of Ugandan children who had been forced to take up arms and the accompanying campaign to put warlord Joseph Kony under arrest. As of March 16, the video has received almost 80 million views on YouTube. Most supporters are young people. Coordinated nationwide events to bolster campaign efforts are planned for April. Now, reflect. When was the last time you heard about a major news story from your kids? What's more, when was the last time they showed genuine passion for a weighty social cause?

The "Kony effect" is clearly cause for celebration on one hand. What parent doesn't want kids who are informed and take action to eliminate social injustices? The rub lies in the way that kids carry out this new breed of online activism and how they evaluate the merit of campaigns that can be produced by anyone, anywhere. In the case of Kony 2012, for instance, the video has come under fire for its inaccuracies and oversimplified messaging. It has also prompted use of the term "slacktivism," which describes superficial actions associated with online activism. Picture kids worldwide idly pressing "like" buttons, spreading links, and buying bumper stickers with one hand, while munching on chips with the other. While incredibly positive on the whole, there are some thorny questions related to Kony 2012 that are worth discussing with your kids.

So capitalize on the video's appeal, and explore its controversy. These tips will provide terrific jumping-off points for discussion with your kids about media messages, online activism, and global citizenship.

Tips for Parents of Young Kids

  • Check kids' understanding. Kids may miss the main point of complex news stories. Ask them questions about what they know, and don't be afraid to lay out some facts and a basic storyline.
  • Clarify good guy/bad guy thinking. A common misconception among kids is that people are all good or all bad. Help them understand that people have both positive and negative qualities, and that they usually don't act alone.
  • Assure kids that they're safe. Seeing violence in the news may make some kids fear for their own safety. Affirm that the event they've seen is scary, but that they aren't in immediate danger.

Tips for Parents of Older Kids

  • Push kids to question the cause. Ask them probing questions about who's behind the campaign. Encourage them to consider questions like: Who made the video? What are their objectives? Is the information well researched? Is the platform reasonable?
  • Expect activism, not slacktivism. The web provides a virtual parachute so kids can take part in world issues from their living room. They can give a "thumbs up" or share a link with a simple click. These steps trend in the right direction but may not be that substantial. Reflect with kids on what else they can do to make lasting change so they don't get sucked into a "brand" of social activism that they can't stand behind.
  • Celebrate civic engagement. As teens transition to adulthood, they generally become more aware of the world around them. Stress the importance of helping others and reflecting on issues that impact the masses. Acknowledge the crucial role that people their age have in creating a better tomorrow.
  • Look and listen. News is being shared directly from kids to kids these days through social media channels. Remember that kids might be in the know about a lot more than you think. Look and listen the next time your kid shares a video with you. You'll probably learn something!
More from Common Sense Media:
Six Ways to Be a Media-Savvy Parent in 2012
Managing Media: Downloads, Internet TV, and More
6 Fresh Ways to Tackle Old Parenting Dilemmas
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