How to empower your teen to think critically about the news

October 2, 2020 • 5 min

If you’ve found yourself wanting to escape the constant din of news this year, you’re not alone. 

With so much happening in the world—a global pandemic, an economic crisis, social unrest, and a high-stakes election—it’s no surprise that news headlines are flooding our homes, social media feeds, and conversations. 

It’s already a lot to process as adults. And the idea of discussing current events with our children can seem daunting. It’s so often easier to shelter our kids from the news or dismiss their concerns. This is even more true in times of uncertainty, when current events might lead to tough conversations and questions we’re unable to answer.

But what if we worried less about giving our kids the right answer? What if we instead helped them form their own opinions on the issues at hand? 

Teach them news literacy

Developing our children’s critical thinking skills and Biblical discernment is more important than ever. As believers, we know one thing for certain: “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails” (Proverbs 19:21).

This verse is a humbling reminder for young people and adults alike. In order for our kids to develop their own opinions and learn how to defend their faith, it’s essential that they acquire “news literacy.” It is important that they possess the ability to analyze the reliability of news and information while also differentiating between opinions and facts.

Psalm 24:1 tells us: “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world and all who live in it.” This verse frames how we approach the news. As we digest media, it’s critical that we understand how Christ is working globally. We must consume news that is all-encompassing and grounded in God’s Word.

As parents, it’s our responsibility to incorporate the news into daily discussion. We must intentionally cultivate conversations so our teens can process the information and ask themselves: “Does the Bible have something to say about this?” 

6 tips for discussing the news with your teen

As you navigate these topics and sift through what the dialogue looks like in your home, here are a few tips for talking to your teens about the news:

Instill a desire in your teen to understand what’s going on in the world.

By encouraging your teenagers to spend screen time learning about the news of the day, they can develop an interest in what’s happening all around the globe. You can continue to stoke this curiosity with dinnertime questions or car-ride chats about current events. If there is a topic your teen seems particularly interested in, instead of answering all of their questions yourself, encourage them to research it on their own. Then follow-up with what they have found and ask them to share how it has shaped their opinion. Remember, some media outlets begin with the goal of pushing an agenda. It is important to help your teen identify objective resources that are fact-based.

Don’t assume knowledge.

It’s hard to express knowledge if you don’t have it. When you’re discussing current events with your teenagers, don’t assume they know the meaning of the terms, people, ideas, events, or history at the heart of the story. For example, rather than saying that the United States invoked sanctions against Iran, begin by explaining what a sanction is and what its effects are. Across social media, people tend to take strong positions on topics they don’t fully understand. Ensure that you introduce your young people to concepts and treat every news story as an opportunity to learn. As journalists, we find that writing for young people is far more interesting because they still have that wonder of the world. Everything is worth explaining and exploring in order to develop discernment that can be applied to a Biblical worldview.

Ask teens what they think, rather than tell them what to think.

By allowing your teen to take ownership of their positions, you help them develop critical-thinking skills and discernment. It’s essential for middle and high school students to process information individually and learn how to express their opinions on a topic or issue. As parents, we have a responsibility to encourage that freedom while also guiding them with Biblical truths.

Incorporate teaching elements into your discussions.

Every news story is a teachable moment. A story about technology in China is great fodder for a larger conversation about communism. Without a solid base of understanding, you’re left to contend with outside opinions. But knowing the facts helps build news literacy as well as curiosity about the world. Teens can begin to connect the dots between current events, their textbooks, and the Bible.

Consider what the Bible has to say about the headlines of the day.

The Bible takes an explicitly clear stance on certain key issues. Don’t beat around the bush when discussing them. Talk through the issues with your teens and help them understand current events through a Biblical lens. Ultimately, we hope that as students compare what they hear and see to the Word of God, they’ll come to Biblical conclusions. It’s our job to guide them through that process.

Equip them to share the hope of the gospel

As devastating as the COVID-19 pandemic has been, it has provided parents an invaluable opportunity to take a more active role in their children’s education. 

View this time as an opportunity to invest in developing your kids’ ability to listen, process, and form educated, Biblically-based opinions on the complex issues that are shaping the world today. 

Our children learn first and foremost from our example. If we teach them to avoid challenging topics, or simply to listen to what’s around them, they may grow to feel burdened and overwhelmed by the news. 

By learning the facts, staying grounded in God’s Word, and shepherding our kids through hard conversations, we give them the gift of freedom. We make space for them to think, feel, and care. 

And ultimately, we encourage them to proclaim their faith and share the hope of the gospel.

Nick Eicher is the Chief Content Officer of WORLD, a current events organization. To see more from WORLD, check them out on Facebook and Instagram.

About the Author:

Nick Eicher

Nick Eicher is the chief content officer of WORLD, a current events organization. He has worked for WORLD in various roles for over thirty years. He serves as executive producer of WORLD Radio and co-host of its daily news podcast, The World and Everything in It. Nick also helps oversee content for WORLD Watch, the organization’s newest program, produced by Christian journalists. WORLD watch keeps teens up to date on what’s happening in the world through highly engaging and Biblically sound, ten-minute videos. Nick has been married for thirty-three years to his wife, Arla, and they have five children, as well as two granddaughters. They live in St. Louis.

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