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How Are Children and Teens Learning About Coronavirus?

Fortunately, the coronavirus is not yet viral on teen screens.

Children and teens learn much about their world from screen-based media, and that is where they are learning about coronavirus. They may be actively watching television, searching the internet or social media, or overhearing their parent’s radio on the drive to school.

In the world of social media, kids can make their own news that is readily shared with others. Sometimes this news is uninformed, misleading, or inflammatory. More often than not, parents either avoid specific issues occurring in their kids’ social media world or talk about more general social media than internet safety and problem-solving. However, in the case of coronavirus, I’d suggest a more active and invasive approach to reduce fears and anxiety.

Source: christian wiedinger 598840/Unsplash
Source: christian wiedinger 598840/Unsplash

Thus far, there have been only a few reports of kids creating and distributing misleading content about the coronavirus on TikTok, Instagram, or Facebook. However, there have been many reports of conspiracies and posts with clearly false statements that have circulated on all of the major social media platforms. If your tween or teen visits some of these sites, it is imperative to help the youngster recognize what is useful information vs. what information may create unfounded fears and anxiety. In a similar fashion to many of the scary things from which parents would like to protect their kids, there is a balance suggested by most child psychologists. First, don’t try to hide things from kids when they ask thoughtful questions. Uncertainty and withholding of information from them only make them more anxious and likely to seek information from unreliable sources. If you are unsure of how to answer questions about the coronavirus, check out sources that are reliable and based on actual data.

Here are a few other strategies that use screen-based information to help:

  • Watch videos about the coronavirus together. Check out the video first to determine if it is age-appropriate. Always consider the developmental age of your child who is curious about the coronavirus. It’s best to start your answers in a simple, age-appropriate level, then to go forward if the child asks more sophisticated questions. Always encourage the child to come back to you with more questions.
  • Search for online content about the coronavirus designed for kids. NPR recently put together an excellent graphic novel that can help kids learn about the coronavirus and what they can do about it. It’s informative, non-threatening, and debunks conspiracy theories.
  • Be more involved in your kids’ social media while the coronavirus is a threat. If necessary, be invasive and check out what they are viewing to be sure they are not being exposed to frightening and misleading content. It’s scary for all of us and doesn’t need to be any more anxiety-producing because of false information being spread on social media.
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