The advent of the digital age has been a great blessing for children who now have access to information about everything under the sun. Unfortunately, the blessing is not an unmixed one, as not all the information that they can access online is the right one and some of it might be positively harmful to their development. Besides, they may face actual danger from cybercriminals seeking to harm vulnerable children.
It is, therefore, incumbent upon parents and school authorities to sensitize children about online misinformation and the threat to their personal safety from cybercriminals. This is something that schools in Abu Dhabi take very seriously indeed. As a matter of fact, every high school and international school in Abu Dhabi has initiated measures to keep their students informed about safe online practices.
The reason that it is so important to start early with the process of educating school children about what constitutes misinformation is that young minds don’t possess the critical thinking ability or the power to exercise judgment about what kind of content on the internet is genuine and what is not. One has to approach this in an organized and calibrated manner so that the children begin to understand how to separate fact and fiction. Here’s how parents and teachers might approach this-
1. Explain the broad contours of misinformation-
Children need to be made to recognize what genuine information is and what is bizarre and unlikely to be true. You may, for instance, explain how mankind does travel in space, but the many stories about encountering aliens on Earth are hoaxes and have no scientific proof to back them up. Similarly, if they come across any racist or xenophobic information, they have to be explained that there is no scientific basis behind such content and one should not pay any heed to that.
2. Go Over Content With Them
Parents, teachers, and guardians can go over content with the children in question and explain to them what is a genuine account and what is an exaggeration or falsehood. For instance, if there is a report about a forest fire, they can be told that this has probably resulted due to global warming and it is a good idea to keep oneself informed about such events.
If, on the other hand, they read that the Covid19 pandemic is a conspiracy of the large pharmaceutical companies of the world, they can be informed that this is a classic example of misinformation as it is not based on any rational explanation. That will convince them to get into the habit of seeking the rationale behind whatever they read online.
3. Engage With the Children
The children should be made to understand that they are welcome to seek clarification about anything that they read on the internet that they cannot make sense of. This will both help them understand what the truth behind anything they read online is and prevent them from seeking advice from an untrustworthy source. They should be given to understand that no question that they seek an answer for is stupid and they are most welcome to seek clarification about anything.