In a world of misinformation, lies, rumors and conspiracy theories, it’s getting harder for teens and tweens to determine fact from fiction and it is taking its toll.
As students struggle to decipher information coming at them on multiple platforms and a 24-hour news cycle, we’re hearing pleas throughout the country on the need for media literacy in the classroom.
It’s no surprise to teens that misinformation and disinformation spread faster than wildfire. Never before has a generation been so impacted as today’s teens, who are the first generation to grow up with social media platforms as a part of daily life. And they face a constant barrage of information and content that’s blurring the lines between fantasy and reality.
With teenage brains not being fully developed until around the age of 25, research is showing that consequences of both misinformation and disinformation are equally devastating as teens try to distinguish between what’s real or manipulative.
But we as a society do not have to accept this fate for our young people.
I’m partnering with a team of students to launch an organization known as “GetReal!” The student-led initiative is driven by young people across the state who are tackling media literacy for teens and tweens by launching a conversation amongst our peers on the importance of media literacy.
This movement is providing a basic set of tools for students to think critically about where they obtain their information, while also engaging a team of professional experts to help arm students to be more active in confronting disinformation when they see it and inspiring our generation to respectfully and responsibly engage on critical issues impacting the world in which we live.
However, digging deeper tells a more concerning story.
For teens, manipulated content in the form of edited photos, curated lifestyles and influencer marketing makes it hard to distinguish between what is real versus what is designed to manipulate.
What’s worse, the integration of digital platforms into teens’ daily lives has also created a space for cyberbullying with online communication changing the way teens communicate.
And we need those in charge to start helping to shoulder the responsibility for protecting us.
According to the Pew Research Center, 59% of U.S. teens have been bullied or harassed online, with most of the teens surveyed expressing that teachers, social media companies and politicians are failing to do anything about it.
With digital platforms being the main source for teen communication, coupled with teens being unable to distinguish between mis- and disinformation, we’re approaching the perfect storm where teens are unable to freely explore who they are and what they believe.
But there are things we can do to address this crisis.
It’s why the “GetReal!” team is calling on our elected California leaders to do more on this issue. As the first generation to grow up in a 24-hour, digital and social media world, it’s time for our government officials to get serious about media literacy in the classroom.
Learning to fact check and identify credible sources, engage in well-rounded and respectful discussions with those who have a different perspective and seeking out experts on issues are skills that teens and tweens need to thrive in today’s digital, information-consuming world. It’s a skill set just as important as science, language and math.
How our generation consumes, deciphers and engages information will have a significant impact on society and, as it stands right now, we’re ill-equipped.
Yet, the first step is awareness. From there, we need to start a conversation and come together – teens, educators, businesses, advocates, elected leaders and experts – to make media literacy a priority in our classrooms.
For more information on “GetReal!” or for students who want to get involved, visit www.GetRealTeen.com.
Abby Moffatt is a co-founder of “GetReal! – a student-led initiative tackling media literacy for teens and tweens. She lives in Acampo and is a junior at St. Mary’s High School in Stockton.