One of my kids came up to me a few weeks ago, and it was obvious he was itching to deliver some information.
“Everyone should be taking cold showers,” he declared triumphantly. When I asked how he’d come to this decision, he said, “A study has proven it.” Intrigued, I asked about his research. “I read a story on the Internet about a rich guy who felt like he was healthier because of cold showers, so he got some scientists to do a study. They found out he was right.”
I saw this as an opportunity.
“So he had a belief, and he paid for a study to be conducted,” I replied, “and the study that he paid for confirmed his belief?” Yes, my son nodded enthusiastically. “Do you see any potential problems with that?” He shook his head as a confused look crossed his face. So we talked a bit more about the reliability of single sources–particularly those on the Internet–and he agreed to do more digging to see what others said on the subject.
Now, to be fair, I didn’t have an opinion one way or another when it comes to the ideal shower temperature (we found out that there are lots of opinions on the topic, but many studies have shown lukewarm to be the best, coupled with a skin moisturizer afterward). But I do have strong feelings about teaching my kids the value of critical thinking.
Just as there are seemingly countless opinions about our ideal shower temperature, there are myriad articles about the necessity of teaching our children the value of critical thinking. Predictably, the tips and findings of many of those articles overlap, so I’ll give you the best bits here.
It’s never too early to help your kids develop critical thinking skills.
Preschoolers may not be ready to learn the difference between a major premise and a minor premise, but they can be taught to think more critically. The website parentingscience.com, a great general resource for parents and teaching, urges parents to start working with their kids early, encouraging them to restate ideas in their own words. The article also stresses the need to talk with children about biases and how those biases affect what we hear and read.
Ask the right questions.
In his insightful TED Talk, Brian Oshiro encourages parents to ask follow-up questions to their kids. Instead of focusing on the “what” of a subject, ask kids “how” or “why” something is true. “How do you know?” is an easy way of teaching kids how to think through their sources and beliefs.
In a recent Forbes magazine article, author Helen Lee Bouygues urges parents to have their children question the media and individual sources. Especially in our age of social media, kids need to be shown the value of confirming their information with multiple sources–what a Stanford University study called “lateral reading.”
Encourage emotional intelligence.
Because much of the misinformation in cyberspace is designed to evoke feelings of outrage or frustration, it’s also important that parents encourage children to learn to manage those emotions.
Making the home a safe place for kids to express and discuss their emotions is key, as is providing good emotional role models for them. Showing kids that emotions can be freely talked about and managed can go a long way to avoiding knee-jerk reactions to false or biased information.
For many of us as parents, the 21st century can be a scary place. Because so many outlets are working for our children’s attention, it’s vital that we equip our kids with the skill of discernment. Fortunately, parents can take the lead, helping kids learn how to properly navigate the stormy Internet sea.