Critical thinking skills are one of the greatest gifts a parent can offer a child in today’s world of too much information. As a people, we humans are bombarded by information coming at us from our various screens. How we relate to that information separates us into two groups. We are either intelligent, sensitive people, or we are “sheeple.” Sheeple take in the data they see and hear and spit it back out at the world, without stopping to examine or assess the information in the first place.
Being one with the sheeple means being ripe for manipulation. The sheeple drink in false propaganda like it’s water. They’ll happily buy whatever moral code you plug without question and adopt it as their own. They’ll buy any product you tell them will make them happy.
We don’t want our children to be vulnerable to group think. We want them to stop and use their critical thinking skills before buying products marketers claim will make them thin and happy, when no product can replace diet and exercise, or fix their emotional baggage. We don’t want our children to buy into what the media tells them to think, rather we want our children to dig deep, find the facts, and develop their own, fact-based opinions.
Critical Thinking is a Learning Process
Critical thinking isn’t a lesson you’re going to sit down and teach your children at one fell swoop. It’s a process. One that takes time and patience.
Your children are going to demand you buy them pretty, sparkly things, based on advertising. Each time, you’re going to have to point out the manipulation in the marketing. When children come to you with ideas on current events, moreover, you’re going to have to press them regarding the facts. You’re going to have to show them how the media uses suasion to drive home an editorial stance. You’ll need to show them how the story is depicted in a completely different manner on a different website and help them understand how to read between the lines to learn the truth of any given news story.
Critical thinking is about questioning: is this all there is to this story? Is there another side? Am I being manipulated? Will a given product fulfill the promise, the claim of the packaging and advertising?
Is it any wonder that right about now you’re thinking you never signed up for this when you decided to have a baby? All this scrutiny, all this teaching your child how to think! It’s a tall order, this critical thinking business.
Critical Thinking Resources
Lucky for you, there are resources out there to help you do the hard work of helping your child separate fact from fiction. There are actually amazing websites that can help you teach your child the important skill of critical thinking, no matter the topic at hand.
Many of these resources were developed for teachers, but there is no reason why we can’t, as parents, partake of these free tools. Parents, after all, were the first teachers, and remain the go-to source of information for their children. One great place to start is NAMLE, which stands for National Association for Media Literacy Education. NAMLE is sponsoring the third yearly Media Literacy Week (November 6-10, 2017), a cause near and dear to NAMLE’s heart.
A great place for parents to begin exploring what NAMLE has to offer is this recently released parent’s guide on teaching children how to be careful media consumers. The focus of the guide is on teaching kids to always ask questions. Here, parents can read up on how to have the conversation about fake news, how to teach children to identify scams, and how to guide children in avoiding plagiarizing information found on websites. An invaluable resource for instilling in our children the message of using their critical thinking faculties.
The Newseum, on the other hand, is more like a teacher’s treasure trove, with lesson plans galore for teaching children how to use their critical thinking skills to form opinions. Choose a topic, such as civil rights, women’s rights, the Holocaust, or an election campaign, and you’ve got everything you need to show children all about it. Looking at Newseum’s collection on women’s suffrage, for instance, there are downloadable units on the history of women’s suffrage; how the Suffragettes used media to further their aims comparing these tactics to today’s use of social media; and a unit on the new techniques women used to get the vote and how these techniques are still in use today. There’s a timeline for feminist milestones a map showing how women’s suffrage spread, and search engines to learn about people important to the women’s movement. We can see women’s movement-related government documents and newspaper clippings, too.
Newseum has neat things you can download, like a colorful poster with a mnemonic device to aid children in spotting media bias. The various offerings can be sorted according to grade, format, topic, theme, and century. There are even case studies relating to current events, such as this one about First Amendment rights and the cancellation of Milo Yiannopolous’ speech at the University of Berkeley campus. Good stuff here, whether for kids just cutting their teeth on finding their thoughts or somewhat further along with their critical thinking skills.
Common Sense Media is devoted to providing unbiased media to and honing critical thinking skills in children, and offers resources to parents on media literacy and bias under the heading of “Parent Concerns.” Here, parents can find videos, articles, and infographics to help them navigate the news with children. The Common Sense Media statement at the bottom of the website’s homepage is a pleasure to read, a terrific moral statement:
“Common Sense is the nation’s leading nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of kids and families by providing the trustworthy information, education, and independent voice they need to thrive in the 21st century.”
If all this wealth of information seems overwhelming, and you’d rather have everything you need on one page, try this resource at Internet4Classrooms: How to Evaluate News Sources for Media Bias. Written for teachers to use in the classroom, this resource breaks down the various forms of media bias for the student. This article can serve as a kind of checklist for the child who is trying to figure out whether a particular news piece is or is not biased. (Speaking of bias, the piece was written by this author, so there may be some bias in recommending the piece to you, the reader!)
Critical thinking is an ongoing learning process. Once you get kids started on the right path asking lots of questions, however, it shouldn’t be difficult to encourage them to continue. Kids have a strong sense of morality and will enjoy applying their critical thinking skills to all situations. Helping them avoid bitter cynicism as they wake up to the deceptive nature of too many media outlets and advertisers, on the other hand, may be a lesson that’s harder to teach.