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How do I teach my kids about bias in the news?
Having a strong preference -- or bias -- for or against something is human. Not all biases are bad, but, left unchallenged, some biases can prejudice you against certain groups, individuals, and ideas. And this can lead to misunderstandings, social inequality, and even open hostility.
We expect our news organizations to be objective. But let's face it: Some are biased. And even objective reporters are human, and their biases can creep into their accounts. This is not lost on kids. According to Common Sense Media's report, News and America's Kids: How Young People Perceive and Are Impacted by the News, kids 10–18 believe that there is racial and gender bias in the news. And half of all kids believe children are treated unfairly by the news, a fact that probably would never occur to us grown-ups.
The very nature of bias makes it challenging to overcome and teach to our kids. Our interaction with news reinforces it: We tend to view news that confirms our biases; we don't necessarily believe we even have biases; and we believe our biases are correct (and that people who don't share them are biased). Learn more about news literacy.
That said, we know our kids are going to be entering a world that's global and interconnected. To succeed, they need to be able to get along with others and not prejudge them. At least for our kids, we can try to reflect on our biases, acknowledge them, and keep our minds open.
Be aware. We parents try to be as objective and nondiscriminatory as possible, but even our non-verbal communication sends kids messages about our biases. Make sure you're sending kids the messages you really want them to get.
Reinforce what they're learning in school. Discovering the role bias has played in our history and currently plays in modern culture is part of school curriculum. Go over these lessons at home by discussing how people can develop bias and when -- and how -- it turns from an opinion into something oppressive.
Look at how different media cover the same story. Read or watch the same news story on sites that you know have ideological differences. Ask your kids to compare and contrast the different ways the story is presented.
Talk about perspectives. Where you grew up, when you grew up, what situations and experiences you were exposed to -- all of these inform your perspective and lead you to your preferences. Talk to kids about how and why people from different backgrounds could view a story differently.
Recognize your biases. We're not perfect; we're just parents. You don't have to eliminate all your biases to raise your kids. But do consider what kinds of ideas you're passing along and why.
Expose your kids to a variety of sources. Consuming news from only one source can lead to bias. It's good for kids to see a range of ideas, topics, and even story treatments. They are inheriting a world that's totally interconnected and need exposure to a range of coverage.