This article was contributed by Parent Zone

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Think critically!

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With accusations of ‘fake news’ everywhere, it’s especially important to help your child learn to question what they see or hear.

Here are some of the things your child will need to look out for online, and what you can do to help them.

Online rumours

Information spreads quickly online. This can be great – it gives us instant access to news and helps us stay connected – but it also makes it easy for rumours and false statements to get out of hand.

You might remember when the trending hashtag #nowthatchersdead (created to share reactions to Margaret Thatcher’s death) caused panic among Cher fans who thought she was the one being mourned. Actors Morgan Freeman and Jeff Goldblum, and singer Britney Spears, among others, have also been incorrectly reported dead on social media.

In July 2016, rumours spread on social media that popular British YouTube star Marina Joyce had been kidnapped when some of her fans thought she had hidden messages in one of her videos. The rumours continued even after police officers visited Marina and confirmed she was OK and the vlogger herself posted live updates showing she was safe.

‘How many tears were shed before a band’s official site were able to reassure their young fans that the stories were wrong?’

Many a boy band has met a premature demise courtesy of unfounded Twitter rumours before relieved fans discovered they were still very much together. But how many tears were shed before a band’s official site were able to reassure their young fans that the stories were wrong?

This type of misunderstanding can spread fast, and corrections after the fact might not get the same amount of attention. Your child should remember that just because something is trending doesn’t mean it’s true.

Talking to your child

Talk to your child about why they like and share things on social media. Are they more likely to share something exciting, funny or shocking? If so, they’re like most other people online. This means eye-catching news can spread before anyone bothers to check if it’s true, so it’s important not to believe everything you see.


You’ve probably heard the saying ‘there’s no such thing as a free lunch.’ The online equivalent is ‘there’s no such thing as a free iPad.’

We’ve all come across pop-ups on websites we visit offering things like money, free travel or gadgets. Often they show up in online games that kids enjoy, so it’s important to make sure your child knows not to believe offers that seem too good to be true. They probably are.

Clicking on one of those pop-ups could download something harmful onto their device, such as a virus or malware (malicious software.)

Talking to your child

Make sure your children know how important it is to use their instincts and common sense online. Before getting excited about an online offer, they should ask themselves if it seems realistic, reliable and trustworthy. Why would someone make that offer? What information are they being asked to provide?

Remind your child that if they’re not sure about something they see online, they can always ask you, or another trusted adult, such as a family member or teacher.

If they do come to you for help, try asking some questions to help them build their critical thinking skills, such as ‘Why do you think someone would want to give you a free iPad?’ Your support and guidance will be key in helping your child learn what to trust online.


Brands are now more creative than ever about pushing their products. For instance, companies can pay to appear at or near the top of a search engine’s results (see the image at the top of the page). If you do a Google search for ‘shoes,’ for example, you’ll probably notice that some of the results have yellow boxes marking them as advertising.

And it’s not just search results. Lots of companies hire internet celebrities to advertise their products. When a popular YouTuber uploads a video in which she just happens to point out her new dress, would it occur to your child that she might have been paid to mention it?

The law says sponsored content should be marked as such, but it’s easy to miss these warnings if you don’t know where to look.

Talking to your child

To get your child thinking about different types of advertising online, you can try looking at a real-life example together. Search for a product they’ve been wanting to buy and see if they can spot the paid search results, or look for sponsored videos on a favourite YouTube channel.

Fake news

Rarely a week goes by without US President Donald Trump claiming a story he doesn’t like is ‘fake news’, but what is it really?

Stories have always appeared in traditional mass media that have turned out to be untrue, whether through incompetence or by choosing to use only those facts that will further a political viewpoint or boost sales. 

In general, fake news is deliberately created to misinform people, whether for fun, to wind them up, upset someone, or to support an ideological agenda. It can be spread online and off.

One way to avoid it is to use critical thinking to question things you see or read. Teach your child to ask themselves 'Why is this person telling me this?’ and to find more than one reputable source for the information put in front of them.

For example, if there’s a current affairs story, they could see how two newspapers with different political sympathies report it online (such as The Sun and The Mirror, or The Guardian and The Telegraph) and then check that against a respected news site, such as ITN or the BBC. If it’s an international issue, they could also look at media sites from the country concerned to get a wider viewpoint.

There are also websites, such as Snopes and Channel 4 News Factcheck, that specialise in drilling down to the facts of a news story.

Further reading

Fake news: a parent’s guide

The advice published on Parent Info is provided by independent experts in their field and not necessarily the views of Parent Zone or NCA-CEOP.

Updated: ​May 2018

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