Teaching Kids How to Separate Fact From Fiction

Teaching Kids How to Separate Fact From Fiction - Parenting Like HannahOpen any social media platform and you are immediately inundated with conflicting views on any number of subjects. Watch the news and it seems more “sources” are lying than telling the truth – or at the very least shading the facts in their favor (which is still lying). Of course, Christians often make things more confusing by insisting their opinions (like which political party is more godly) are actually scriptural and take verses out of context to “prove” their point.

Young people are especially vulnerable in the confusion that results. Parents and churches rarely give kids and teens practical filters to help them distinguish between God’s truth and the world’s “foolishness”. They are forced to create their own filters for separating things which match God’s truths, opinions for which God doesn’t probably have an opinion (like which color looks best on them), and the world’s ungodly views.

Because they have little life experience, the filters they often choose are somewhat faulty. They may decide if something is true based on the person who is telling them this supposed “truth”. If they are good looking and charismatic, that is probably a sign they are telling the truth. Someone they consider old and outdated can’t possibly know the truth. Favorite teachers? Truth. Boring teachers? Unreliable. Wealthy? Truth. Or perhaps the opposite.

Using random and unreliable filters for sorting truth from unwise, ungodly “wisdom” means their results are haphazard at best. They are just as likely to choose to believe what God has said is true as they are to believe something that absolutely contradicts what God has said is true. When they base their decisions on unwise sources of information, they can end up entangled in sins and all sorts of negative consequences.

That’s why it’s so vitally important we teach young people how to filter wisdom before they accept it, and especially before they pass it on to others. A great way is to encourage them to ask themselves these important questions before they accept anything as wisdom.

  • What does it really mean? Sometimes items are worded in such a slick way, they sound really wonderful. Or maybe they are paired with a beautiful photo or work of art. Perhaps, it is worded in a way that was meant to cause an emotional reaction. Maybe, it’s just really funny, because it sounds so realistic. All of those things only mean the person creating the “wisdom” has some great advertising skills. It doesn’t necessarily mean the statement is true or wise. Sometimes the entire thing when examined closely means virtually nothing – similar to the speeches of many politicians. Before accepting or rejecting these bits, teach your kids to restate it in their own words. If they can’t explain it, they can’t make a great decision about whether or not it is true. (This is also helpful, because they may be totally misunderstanding what the person is really saying.)
  • Who said it? Anything from the Bible, gets an automatic acceptance as wisdom EXCEPT be aware that some people quote Job’s friends (for example) as wisdom, when in reality God later punished them for their foolish talk/advice. If the person is known for practicing another religion, no religion or an unknown religion, teach your kids to give it other tests before accepting it as wisdom. Some religions have taken things from the Bible and others sound like biblical statements, but are actually not saying the same thing. For example, many religions have what sounds like the Golden Rule, but is actually advocating a negative of it. If the author claims to be Christian, it still must pass the other tests before being accepted as wisdom. Even some of the best ministers in the world will tell you they have made mistakes in what they have preached at times in the past.
  • Does it contradict scripture? This one is tough, because it assumes your kids are reading and studying the Bible. Quotes can sound like they agree with scripture, but actually contradict it – especially if they are taking scriptures out of context. Encourage your kids to ask for help from a trusted Christian adult if they are confused. This is one of those times when Google can help or it can make your child even more confused.
  • Can any “evidence” be trusted? Anyone who has dealt with statistics can tell you they can be used to prove almost any point. They are easily manipulated by the way data is collected, questions are asked and more. Even scientific “evidence” is sometimes really someone making a hypothesis based on the evidence with no real evidence to prove their actual hypothesis. Have other experiments been done that prove the opposite? Or was poor methodology used in order to push an agenda? Your kids need to understand many fields are under a tremendous amount of pressure to “publish or perish”. This means they have to constantly put out new material in short amounts of time. Some people will fold under the pressure and do shoddy work which then gets picked up by people who want them to be correct or who are shocked by their results. Once one of these lies gets traction in the media it is almost impossible to later convince people it was indeed wrong.
  • Does it contain logical fallacies? This one can also be tricky, because Christians can tell one of God’s truths, but then add a logical fallacy to explain it because they can’t think of anything better to say. Still, a logical fallacy is a red flag to check carefully the information with scripture for themselves. If it really is something God has commanded, then it doesn’t matter how badly the person explained their position on what God says. It still should be obeyed. On the other hand if what someone is saying has a logical fallacy and contradicts what is found in the Bible, then it must be rejected – no matter how popular the information may be in our society.
  • Do you need more information? Some wisdom has no godly or ungodly elements to it. Never wash red clothing in hot water for example. But suppose your child saw the opposite “wisdom” in some wonderful life hack? Teach your kids when something has potentially negative consequences if it is wrong (like faded clothing), ask older, more experienced people their thoughts on the subject. This one can be very tough for some young people. In their efforts for independence, it is easier to believe “everyone over thirty is an idiot”. It takes humility to go to a parent or grandparent aged adult and ask what they think on a subject. Teach your kids though, that learning from the mistakes of others is a lot easier (and in this case cheaper) than making them yourself.

Obviously, the gold standard for wisdom is always God. That’s why it is so extremely important you help your kids develop strong Bible reading and study habits. Being unfamiliar with what is in the Bible can make them susceptible to a lot of false wisdom – especially that packaged in Christian wrappings. So teach your kids these questions, but get them in their Bibles – it’s the best safety net they have available to them.

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Thereasa Winnett

Thereasa Winnett is the founder of Teach One Reach One and blogger at Parenting Like Hannah. She holds a BA in education from the College of William and Mary. She has served in all areas of ministry to children and teens for more than thirty years and regularly leads workshops for ministries and churches. She has conducted numerous workshops, including sessions at Points of Light’s National Conference on Volunteering and Service, the National Urban Ministry Conference, Pepperdine Bible Lectures, and Lipscomb’s Summer Celebration. Thereasa lives in Atlanta, GA with her husband Greg, where she enjoys reading, knitting, traveling and cooking.

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