Children on phone
Children on phone

“Start teaching young people media literacy on time“

In times of fake news and endless streams of information, it is important that young people learn to critically reflect on what they read or see online. That is the opinion of Sanne Tamboer, a Communication Science researcher. On 20 July, she will receive her PhD on her research about how young people between the ages of 12 and 15 consume news and on ways to train them in media literacy.

“When you open your telephone screen, you see loads of information and it’s hard to determine what is important and what is true,” the researcher said. “News is information that you do something with, such as form an opinion or talk to someone about. The news programmes make a selection for you: there’s less news about things that happen very far away and are not major events. But online, for example, you also get the video made by a vlogger talking about his or her day. Something like that can also be news, but it’s important to ask yourself why such a video is being distributed.”

News literacy is disappointing

In her PhD research, Tamboer studied the news literacy of young people between the ages of 12 and 15. “At that age their brains are still in the process of becoming fully developed, but they gradually develop habits in using news and in forming a political preference. It’s good if they gain media literacy early on, both with respect to all of the information that they now encounter and that they will later encounter when, for example, they can vote.” She says that they should know how news is made, read a message twice or check where a story has come from and if it is true.

“These young people have grown up with a phone in their hands, so you’d expect that they’d know how to deal with all that information.” But that was disappointing. “They hardly ever looked critically at the news.”

A good example

The challenge for the researchers was to find a method that would help pupils look at news more critically. They developed a series of lessons in which pupils played a game that involved them becoming a journalist and making news themselves. “We based our lessons on the principle of learning by doing,” Tamboer explained. “But knowing how news is created often doesn’t help young people to look at news more critically. They themselves have to find news literacy important and apply it.”

However, the series of lessons was not effective enough: after the lessons, pupils hardly used the skills they’d learned. But they did say that they felt they could look more critically at the news. “Perhaps in a subsequent intervention, we should have pupils make videos instead of news items,” the researcher said. “That’s more in line with how they get news. And you should really train them in this for a longer period.”

Nevertheless, Tamboer thinks that the study provided enough new insights. “The social environment of pupils proved much more important than had been assumed with regard to stimulating their news literacy. If parents and friends think that news literacy is important, young people will apply those skills more often. Children used to see their parents read a paper or watch the news on television. If young people now only see their parents scrolling, it’s not always clear that they’re looking at news. It sometimes helps to put the telephone aside and to talk in the classroom and at home about what sort of items you’ve seen. And ask yourself where the item came from and if you can find it on other media.”

Contact information

For more information, please contact Sanne Tamboer via sanne.tamboer [at] (sanne[dot]tamboer[at]ru[dot]nl) or Team Science Communication via +31 24 361 6000 or media [at] (media[at]ru[dot]nl)

Behaviour, Media & Communication