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How do I teach my tween about satirical news such as the Onion?

Topics: News Media

Satire is the use of exaggerated ideas to expose or critique someone or something. The self-confessed "fake news" site the Onion offers ideal examples of political satire, but the art of satire started in ancient times. Today, it's alive and well in pop culture, from Saturday Night Live to Weird Al Yankovic. Just as kids develop an understanding of sarcasm as they get older, tweens begin to understand satirical send-ups (including songs, videos, news, and the like).

Satire is by nature a double-edged sword. It not only aims to draw attention to its subject; it tries to uncover an underlying problem by using its own subject matter against itself. Because satire contains kernels of truth, it can provoke emotional reactions, including sadness and anger. Before tweens and even teens can understand satire, they may need your help with a few key elements: background or real-world experience in the ideas that are being satirized, an understanding of the methods used to express satire, and explanations of what something means.

Sometimes it's hard to tell what's supposed to be satirical. The Onion, for example, so closely mimics the format of a daily newspaper that its articles have been confused with legitimate news. On the internet, you can click on a company's "About Us" section to determine whether its content is real or satirical; you don't have that luxury with all satirical content, so in cases where you can't tell the meaning of something, do a Google search and check Know Your Meme and Snopes.

Here are a few ideas for developing an understanding of satire in young kids:

  • Comics and cartoons. Younger kids will understand characters such as Calvin and Hobbes and Garfield. Use these as starting points to get kids to see how exaggeration proves a point.
  • Political cartoons. You might have to explain the meaning behind them, but political cartoons are great tools for illustrating (and lampooning) politics.
  • Satirical songs. Lots of songs in kids' media mimic or parody popular songs; think of the Chipmunks singing like Beyoncé.
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