The Fake News Effect

The Fake News Effect

“We accept the reality of the world with which we’re presented. It’s as simple as that.” – The Truman Show

Social and political polarization is at an all-time high. Conspiracy theories, strong opinions, and stereotyping are taking over social media channels. I don’t point this out to scare you, but it is so important that we are well-informed, especially when it comes to what we are consuming online.

Earlier this fall, Netflix released a documentary called The Social Dilemma. It is full of eye-opening interviews about how social media and sites like Facebook, YouTube, Google, Twitter and others can manipulate users to stay engaged on the site so they can make money. It shares the dark side of the internet, but it is not something that is brand new.

One of the main problems that The Social Dilemma discusses is the danger of “fake news”. They quote an MIT study that found fake news on Twitter spreads six times faster than true news.

Think about that! Six times!

How are we (or our teenagers) supposed to know what is reality when false information is spreading at a much faster rate?

These social media platforms have algorithms that target users and often times put them in an echo chamber so that they will continue coming back to the site. As you scroll through your feed, you might think, “How can they believe that? Don’t they see the facts? Don’t they see the information I am seeing?” But they don’t. Their feed looks drastically different than yours.

The algorithm could set off a chain of events like this:

  • You like a friend’s post about their trip to Disney World
  • A video pops up about the top 10 attractions at Disney World
  • You go down a rabbit hole of watching families take surprise Disney trips
  • A Disney Vacation group is recommended
  • Events coming up at Disney start popping up on your feed
  • You see ads for Disney travel agents, plane tickets, and Disney hotels

And it goes on and on…

This is a light-hearted example of how social media can take you down a path where you find yourself on a plane to Florida for a week-long vacation at Disney World. But it can also manipulate your thoughts on COVID-19, the election, and more. It can quickly give information you agree with and polarize you from others who maybe weren’t originally that different from you.

The Social Dilemma said, “We have less and less control over who we are and what we really believe.”

This can have devastating consequences when we start sharing news sources that haven’t been checked, or when we share information that is false or exaggerated. It is so important that we do a “Fake News Check” when we are going down our rabbit holes online. Here are a few things that you might find helpful as you try to navigate what is fake vs. reality:

Check your source.
Remember your old research paper days when you had to cite sources? Channel your favorite English teacher and start digging into the content you see on social media. Before you share or like a post, ask some of these questions: Is this source credible? Is it unbiased and backed by evidence? Is it current? Does it properly cite quotes and research?

There is so much information on the internet. It is easier than ever to find an article or story that backs your beliefs, but is it accurate? Is it reality or are you falling into the fake news trap? Checking your sources is a great place to start!

Follow different voices.
When you are scrolling through social media, do you see the same opinion over and over again? Does everyone you follow look and sound like you? Especially lately, it has been so tempting to unfollow and unfriend people who hold different opinions than me. There are definitely times where it is healthy to unfollow toxic accounts, but I would encourage you to make sure you are reading posts that might challenge your worldview – it is vital for growth and empathy!

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to get caught in an echo chamber where I am not open to the thoughts and experiences of others. Be intentional about who you follow and how you can grow.

Start conversations.
When you start to go down that rabbit hole, talk to someone. When you are getting worked up because of what you are seeing in your Facebook feed, run it by someone else. When you are overwhelmed, set up some boundaries. Just being aware of the fake news trap is a good defense, but make sure you are surrounding yourself with people who will hold you accountable and engage in positive discussions. This is especially important for teenagers!

Here are some discussion questions that you can use to start a conversation with your teen or other loved ones about social media:

  • What are you seeing on social media this week? What have you been watching? What have you disagreed with?
  • Are there any boundaries that could help you manage social media and friends better? How can I help you with that?
  • What are some negative things about social media that you don’t enjoy? What is a positive thing about social media?

Social media isn’t going away anytime soon. But there are things that we can do to stop the spread of Fake News. There are boundaries that we can set to limit its influence in our lives. It’s time to start talking about it so we can take control back! Sit down with your teen, your spouse, your friend and start a conversation this week.

*If you want to see more posts on The Social Dilemma, head over to our Teen Life Impact Facebook Group. It is a group for adults to find support and resources. We promise to check our sources 😉

Karlie Duke

Karlie Duke

Marketing & Development Director

Karlie was in one of Teen Life’s original support groups and now is passionate about encouraging students to live better stories. She has gained experience working with teenagers through work, volunteer, and personal opportunities.

5 Apps to Ask Your Teen About

5 Apps to Ask Your Teen About

Life has been crazy lately – especially for teenagers who are facing a school year full of unknown. But with disrupted summer plans, teens are spending more time online than ever before. They have had to go online for school, to talk to friends, to keep busy, and to stay connected to the world outside their homes.

If you’re like my family, screen-time limits have flown out the window, and we are all in survival mode to keep kids happy, entertained, and connected. It is understandable that expectations around devices are different right now, but one thing should remain the same – you should be talking to your kids about what they are viewing, watching, and downloading.

As adults, we need to help teenagers think critically about what they are consuming online. Here are a few areas where you can ask questions and engage your teen in conversation!

1. TikTok

This newer app is extremely popular with teens. If you haven’t heard of it, I would encourage you to do some research, but it is an app where users can create content (most are lip-synching videos) and watch other user-generated videos. It is fun and addictive, but many videos include adult language and content.

Ask teens if they have downloaded the app. Have they created videos? Who do they follow? Have any strangers tried to message them? What are their privacy settings?

2. Streaming Apps

There are a lot of streaming apps that have incredible content. Between Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, HBO, Amazon Prime Video, Starz, and more, teenagers have endless choices of movies and tv shows to watch. While this opens up great options for family-friendly movies and educational shows, it also includes content that might be inappropriate for teens. There is not consistency among age-based content ratings, so do some research on what your teens are watching.

Ask some of these questions: What have you been watching lately? What do your friends like to watch? How do you know if a show or movie is appropriate to watch?

**You can also easily check the “recently watched” or “continue watching” lists to see what your teen is viewing.

3. Instagram

Instagram is not new, but it continues to be one of the most popular social media platforms for teens. It never hurts to check in on apps you know your teen has and loves, so start a conversation about Instagram! Encourage teens to follow accounts that will encourage and help them grow. It is easy to use Instagram as an unhealthy comparison game, but teens can choose who they follow and what content they digest.

Start by asking this: What Instagram accounts encourage you when you see their posts? Who do you follow that looks different than you? Is there anyone that you need to unfollow? How can you use your own Instagram to encourage others?

4. FaceTime/Zoom

Social-distancing guidelines are constantly changing, which might encourage teens to use video chat apps to connect with friends and family. This is a great way to stay in touch, play games virtually, or interact with friends “face-to-face”. However, since these apps are readily available on phones and computers, it can be tempting to use them inappropriately, especially if there is little adult supervision.

Check in by asking the following: Who do you talk to most often on FaceTime/Zoom? Has anyone asked you to do anything inappropriate while on video chat? What boundaries would help protect you while using video chat?

5. Gaming Apps

More time can also mean that teens will turn to gaming apps/consoles to keep their hands (and minds) busy. These can have cognitive and social benefits, but we should also encourage teens to find non-technology-related ways to occupy their time. Whether it is Candy Crush, Call of Duty, or Yahtzee, teens need to make sure their time is balanced.

What games do you like to play on your phone/gaming system? Have you checked your screen time lately? What could you do to lessen your screen time average by an hour this week? How else could you fill your time if you took a tech break for an hour every day?

Technology is incredibly helpful to learn, connect, grow, and entertain. The apps listed above are far from bad, but it is still important to be intentional about how we use our time. As we enter the last half of the summer, I hope you will look at your own tech usage and start conversations with your kids about how they can use technology to make a positive impact on their day!

Karlie Duke

Karlie Duke

Marketing & Development Director

Karlie was in one of Teen Life’s original support groups and now is passionate about encouraging students to live better stories. She has gained experience working with teenagers through work, volunteer, and personal opportunities.

Confronting the Momo Problem

Confronting the Momo Problem

The “Momo Challenge”.

Did you hear about it? Did it cause panic among your circles? Did you see emails, Facebook posts, and texts warning you about this terrifying internet presence?

Momo is scary, terrifying, horrible, dark, and twisted. But it is also fake – a hoax. Even though this particular character was fake, it brings up a great question – how do we confront internet and social media issues with our children?

Before I go further, let me give some context for those who haven’t heard of Momo. According to this CNN article, “The [Momo] challenge is the latest viral concern/social media fad/urban legend going around Facebook parenting groups and schools. It’s described as a “suicide game” which combines shock imagery and hidden messaging, and it supposedly encourages kids to attempt dangerous stunts, including suicide.”

According to Facebook posts, the scary, large-eyed doll figure called Momo would pop up in the middle of YouTube videos aimed at children like cartoons and toy reviews. Momo would then ask children to engage in destructive behavior – hurting themselves, loved ones, and even encouraging them to kill themselves. Reportedly, Momo also warned viewers against telling adults about what they were seeing and hearing. It is a horrifying thought that these messages would sneak into videos that parents and adults trusted to be safe for children.

However, while there have been Facebook posts, testimonies and stories, there has been little to no evidence that these Momo Challenge messages exist – no screen shots or recordings. According to experts, Momo is nothing to be worried about and stories of the challenge have been perpetuated by fearful exaggeration.

Now here is the problem with Momo – are children scared of the figure because they saw it in a video? Or are they scared because of the stories and pictures they have seen from parents and peers? Which begs the question – did we make this problem worse by talking about it? And how do we handle things like this in the future?

Here are some things to keep in mind while having internet, social media, or cyber-bullying conversations with you children and teenagers:

 

Question without telling.

When asking teens about current things that you are seeing in the news or on Facebook, start by asking non-leading questions. Instead of asking about Snapchat, for example, ask what apps they are using on their phones. Ask how they interact with friends via the internet. Ask if they have seen or heard anything scary or inappropriate on the internet or their phone apps.

By all means, please ask your teenagers what they are watching, listening to, interacting on. If you have younger children, have them watch videos with you in the room, check their view history and regulate what they have access to. But try to avoid telling them the shortcomings of social media and the internet if they are using it innocently. Open the door for your kids to talk to you without making them worried or afraid of what you might tell them. 

 

Talk without projecting fear.

It is understandable if you are worried. But your kids don’t need your worry and fear projected on them. This is especially important when you are talking about cyberbullying and worrisome content.

For example, maybe your teen received a less-than-nice message on social media. While this is not ideal or even acceptable, it also doesn’t mean that they are being bullied. However, if you project that fear onto your child, they will look for bullying in every situation in the future. Let them hold onto their innocence for as long as possible. Use accountability and some boundaries to check on them without placing rules that will raise anxiety or stress.

 

 Ask without assumption.

Don’t assume that just because an app is popular, your student has it on their phone. Even though Snapchat could be used with some negative intent, it doesn’t mean that your teen is using it for anything besides sending silly pictures to friends.

You should ask. You should question and keep your teenager accountable. But please don’t assume that they are doing something wrong or hiding something from you. When you start a conversation with assumptions, your teen will most likely start their response with defensiveness. Healthy conversations will include questions and an open discussion – they will end with accusations and assumptions. Give your teen the benefit of the doubt and show that you are willing to listen first before reacting!

 

 Discuss without an agenda.

Sometimes, you need to have discussions with your kids even if you don’t have something specific you need to ask about. When you open the door for discussion at all times, not just when they are in trouble or you are worried, they are more likely to come to you on their own instead of you always having to seek them out.

They may think you are being dorky and they may roll your eyes, but ask, “What is the newest app these days?” Ask the cool ways to connect with friends online. Start a conversation about the newest video game craze. Show that you are interested in them. Teens want you to ask – despite their reactions – they want to be heard and cared about. Be an adult who hears about the scary, dangerous, fun, exciting things first because that is the kind of relationship you have cultivated with teenagers.

 

As I wrap up, I want to encourage you to be invested in the social media practices of your children. Know what they are watching, downloading, playing and using. Ask other adults, and stay aware of trends and possible dangers.

Hopefully you did hear about the Momo Challenge, but I also hope you will do research and ask around when you hear legends and rumors. While we don’t want to be naïve adults, we also don’t need to believe everything on internet. Above all else, start conversations with your kids and teens. Ask questions, engage them, and also trust them!

You are doing hard work in an constantly changing world!

Karlie Duke

Karlie Duke

Marketing & Development Director

Karlie was in one of Teen Life’s original support groups and now is passionate about encouraging students to live better stories. She has gained experience working with teenagers through work, volunteer, and personal opportunities.

The Dangers of Distracted Parenting

The Dangers of Distracted Parenting

Parenting is often described as one of the best, most stressful jobs that a person can take on in this life.  While becoming a parent may not always be a decision made or something that is planned, it is an incredible responsibility that comes with a new set of rules, never ending questions, and the need to constantly be “on”. So, what happens when parents go from being ‘on’ top of things, to just being ‘on’ their phone maybe a little too often?

The term for this phenomenon is “Distracted Parenting”. You may not have heard this term before, but I am willing to bet you have seen it. At a restaurant, an entire family on their phones, not speaking to each or even making eye contact. At the park when a child is behaving in a way that would likely be corrected if their parent was not on the bench completely immersed in their phone. At a school or church event and that one kid is running out of the door with no adult present and you think, “Where is the adult?!” The situations are too commonplace and have caused concern among pediatricians.

The American Pediatrics Association recently revealed that more children are being treated for severe injuries from playground accidents than in the past. They asked why this is occurring when the playground equipment is actually the safest it’s been in decades. Literally. The answer: Distracted Parenting. Parents were observed at playgrounds where they looked at their phones, talked to each other, and did ‘other things’ more often than they looked at their child. The researchers point out that children pick up on when they can partake in risky behaviors and tend to do so when they perceive that their parent is distracted. Some children take risks even when the parent is paying attention, so I can only imagine what those children do when they realize no one is watching!

Not only is there potential for physical harm when distracted parenting happens, it can also be emotionally damaging if a child or teen feels that their parent is too busy to talk or participate with them. Too often parents are sharing that perfect Instagram pic of their kid going down the slide rather than watching them in real life. Too often parents are more interested in posting about their “family” dinner rather than participating in a conversation at the table.

An article on Psychology Today shares that being distracted as a parent is expected, especially with multiple children in the home or with parents working, however it is the level to which the distraction occurs that matters. Children and teens are not always the most observant people, but they do notice when the important people in their lives are not paying attention and will take advantage by testing what they can get away with, whether it’s jumping from the highest point of a jungle gym, sneaking out at night, or skipping school among other risky behaviors.

This is why I encourage all of us to focus on putting the phone away and have actual conversations with the children, teens, and adults in our lives. Have a conversation with your teen at dinner, play with your child at the playground, watch your child so they don’t run out the door before you can catch them. I promise, no one will care if pics are posted after the fact, but your child will notice if you go down that slide with them in the moment, they will remember the conversations they have with you, and they will remember the times you give them your undivided attention to help them.

If you think you may struggle with being a distracted parent, leader, teacher, or caregiver, think about your habits and ask these questions:

  • When was the last time you played with your child or teen?
  • What was the last conversation you shared as a family?
  • Ask your child(ren) if they feel you are distracted. (Honesty can go a long way in opening up communication. Respond in kind and avoid responding defensively).
  • Think about the last conversation you had with an adult: were they on their phone? Did you make eye contact? Did you feel heard?
  • What makes you feel heard? (The same probably applies to the children and teens in your life. Have an open conversation about what listening looks like in different settings.)

 

Shelbie Fowler is currently an intern for Teen Life while completing her Master’s in Family Studies. She is passionate about being an advocate for family life education in order to grow families stronger.

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New Technology, New Threats

New Technology, New Threats

Our world is constantly coming up with new ways of advancing technology and bringing it into our homes. Children have robots that can talk and play with them. Teens have smartphones constantly glued to their hands. The majority of the working population is online 8-10 hours a day. In my home, we have to make a conscious effort to not be on a screen when we are spending time together. I know we are not alone in the struggle to disconnect from our screens and connect with each other.

This is a list of helpful resources and ideas that I have put together through, experience, research, and education on online safety:

  1. Create boundaries: know what is and is not okay to share online. We need to teach teens that their address, where they go to school, and even where they work is information that can make it easier to be found by people who may be dangerous. It is much better when they have their accounts set to private. Talk about what types of pictures can be shared on media, even SnapChat. Images last longer than most of us wish online; show them the consequences of having inappropriate pictures shared. Understanding why safety is necessary online is an essential step in helping teens feel responsible for what they say and do online.
  2. Have tech free time: the whole family should disconnect at least weekly to create real life connections. Take a walk, play a board game, make a meal, eat at a table screen-free, do anything to show that you are interested in what teens have to say. Teens are observant and will react to adults putting their screens away. It may be difficult to give up our screens, but it can lead to deeper relationships and more conversation, especially when everyone participates. Don’t believe me? Watch this video from Today to see for yourself how teens felt after giving their phones up for a week.
  3. Model how to act online: talk about what is helpful versus harmful to share online. We have all seen comments of harassment, cyberbullying, and people committing crimes on live stream. Teens react to these situations all the time. The pressure to bully or harass others online can be overwhelming and many teens do not know how to report the behavior or get scared they will get in trouble. We all need to be vigilant in sharing what is appropriate and how to report harmful behaviors online. What we tend to forget is that there are real people on the other side of comments with feelings that are stomped on when we post negative, harassing comments. Teen Life works at helping teens recognize and use empathy in situations, but we should all be aware that we say online can have a lasting impact on a life.

 

Here are some links to some awesome and free resources that can be used by anyone to keep their families safe in this overly connected world:

    • Google has Family Link which creates an account for your children but is fully linked to your account & lets you manage settings.
    • Google also has a Safety Center that has great resources that can be utilized.
    • ReThink is an app that has the potential to help ourselves from making a potentially life-changing mistake by detecting cyberbullying.

 

What apps and resources have you used to help yourself and your teen be responsible with technology? Try some of the resources we’ve listed above, and let us know how it goes!

Shelbie Fowler is currently an intern for Teen Life while completing her Master’s in Family Studies. She is passionate about being an advocate for family life education in order to grow families stronger.
How to Win at Regulating

How to Win at Regulating

It is likely that your teenager will get a new tech device this Christmas. That is, if they don’t already have one. I wrote about this in a previous post and talked about the ways you, as a parent, can monitor and regulate your teenagers use of devices.

Here, I am more interested in how adults in teenagers’ lives can empower teens to regulate themselves. You see, if we aren’t teaching our kids how to set up boundaries from an early age, all they will learn is to follow what someone else tells them to do. Or worse, they will learn to resist and rebel against what they are told to do. Our job needs to be that we help our kids understand the value in setting healthy boundaries and the benefit they will get from doing that on their own. The way I say it to my kids is, “I want you to make choices that allow you to have the freedom to choose to do whatever you want. That includes doing things that are wrong but knowing that when you choose those things, you begin to lose your freedom. So you make the right choices and maintain the freedom you have.”

Here are some ideas for how to help your student make their own choices and boundaries.

  1. Understand that this is a self-control goal. We all struggle with self-control in some area of our life. As students grow up, they will expose many areas in their life that need self-control. Technology use is just one of them. When we focus on the underlying problem, it is not just a battle for more technology time. So helping them see the importance of self-control is key. As they buy in, the idea that technology is a tool (not a toy) can help shape why it is important to regulate their own screen time.

 

  1. Finding the right monitor or software is not the solution. I love that Amazon Kindle for kids highlights that you can set time limits and access limits for your kids. But this is really about you as the adult not being engaged and relying on the tech to do the monitoring. This is not a slam on you as a parent, it is pointing out that if we are not watching and paying attention to what our kids are doing, we will miss when something doesn’t work the way it is supposed to. We also wrongly communicate that the device is in control. This is not something I want my kids to think. I want them to have the power over their device and not be controlled by it. Starting at 8 years old, my wife and I expect our kids to set their own timer for their screen time. This puts them in charge, and if they don’t use it responsibly, then they lose the privilege of using a device.

 

  1. Using technology is a privilege, not a right. Just because other kids get certain devices doesn’t mean everyone does. Just because the school lets a student have extended periods of iPod or ChromeBook use doesn’t mean that happens at my house. The use of technology is for those willing to accept the responsibility that comes along with that. This means that your teenager should be happy to let you look at their text messages, social media interactions and location tracking. The balance of this is that you, as the parent, handle this the right way. Ask yourself, “Have I created a welcoming environment where my teen knows they can approach potentially uncomfortable conversations without me “freaking out”?” If not, start creating that space now and changing the way you interact with your teen so they can learn the lessons they need to before they leave the safety of your home.

 

  1. Finally, be okay with mistakes. Teenagers are going to make mistakes as they learn these lessons. You must be willing to work with them. Understand you are in the coaching stage. It is really too late to discipline life lessons into them, although there are sometimes consequences of actions. But instead, you are there to hear from your teen how that decision has affected what they want to do and who they want to be. Then, help them find a solution to correct things and move on. Ultimately you are helping them learn how to make decisions so they can keep making the right ones.

I hope you and your family have a Merry Christmas and that your 2018 begins with some focused and intentional ways your family can work together even better this coming year.

 

What else would you add here? What have you seen work in trying to help your teenager self regulate and use their technology as a tool not a distraction?

 

Ricky Lewis is our CEO and has been with us since the beginning. As a father of 7, he seeks to help parents and their kids Live Life Better.