Many have labeled today's young people apathetic and obsessed with their phones — a group not interested in news or improving their communities. Another common assumption is that college students and young adults don't vote and aren’t civically engaged. However, a recent survey dispels these misconceptions.
The myth of youth apathy
Common Sense Media reveals in a 2019 survey that teens are interested in news. In fact, 78% of thirteen to seventeen year-olds say that following current events is important to them. But, perhaps unlike their parents, they are more likely to get their news from social media sites and YouTube and prefer to consume news visually. Consider the following:
- Fifty-four percent of teens digest news through social media and half use YouTube a few times a week.
- Sixty percent of teens who get their news from YouTube say they are more likely to get it from celebrities, influencers, and personalities as compared to news organizations (39%).
- Sixty-four percent say that “seeing pictures and video showing what happened” gives them the best understanding of major news events.
Despite this, teens say they trust established news organizations more than other sources. Young people want to be part of the public conversation — and should be. That is why it is important to devote classroom time to deepen students’ understanding of and critical thinking about current events.
Dr. Tanner Higgin, Director of Education Editorial Strategy at Common Sense Media, agrees. "It's encouraging that teens trust news organizations, but what 'news' means to them and where and how they consume news is increasingly varied.“ says Higgin. “That's why it's more important than ever to help students develop critical thinking skills tuned to today's diverse news and media landscape."
There are other recent compelling trends about teens, young adults and current events.
- Most teachers say that it is important to teach about current event topics like immigration, LGBTQ rights, race and religion.
- Fifty-two percent of U.S. high schools report that there has been an increase in activism among young people.
- Seventy-one percent of teens volunteer and 61% have raised money for a cause they believe in.
- Thirty-one percent of voters ages 18-29 cast ballots in the 2018 midterm elections, a 10% increase from the 2014 midterms.
How can teachers address current events?
Teachers can capitalize on these trends by introducing news-based activities and current events in Social Studies (American History, Civics, or Government), English (reading and writing informational text), as a weekly topic for an Advisory, a stand-alone elective or as the focus for a school-wide project. Developing a passion for civic engagement early on has academic, social and emotional benefits for young people and encourages them to be caring citizens and lifelong contributors to society.
Ideas to address current events in the classroom
- Follow a story on social media.
Choose a news story to follow on social media by following popular hashtags and accounts. Ask students to think critically and compare sources, explore different viewpoints, and fact check to assess whether the information they receive is accurate, comprehensive or selective, and whether there is bias.
- Make a video.
Choose a news story and have students conduct some basic research about it. They can then create a short video (or if they’re ambitious, their own YouTube news channel) where they report on that story. The video can include the details of what happened, background and historical information and public opinion surveys.
Another strategy is to create a video where different people are interviewed about the news story that reveals different points of view. This process will help them understand that there are different perspectives on current events and how to discern facts from opinions.
- Create an infographic.
Have students create an infographic or graphic short story that illustrates a news story. They can use graphs and other images they find online for the infographic or create images of their own. If they make a graphic short story (like a graphic novel, except much shorter), they can illustrate the story by drawing draw their own images and then adding characters, narration, thought bubbles and background information.
- Develop a survey.
Students can develop a survey about a specific news story. For example, if the story is about people seeking asylum on the U.S. border, students can create and conduct a survey. The survey can ask recipients what they know about the situation, where they got their information, their opinions and what actions they think should be taken. The survey can start with an intro with basic information as a written summary, video or audio.
- Explore the celebrity angle.
Because many students get their news from celebrities and influencers, have them conduct a critical review of a news story that compares what celebrities are saying about the news item and what news sources are reporting. Students can present the different perspectives as an essay, video, or PowerPoint presentation.
- Produce a podcast.
Students can choose a news story and produce their own podcast about it. These can be short (10 minutes or less) podcasts that explore a specific current event. Use this guide for student podcasts that includes podcast examples, tools, production tips and more. Students can work in teams. This can be done as a one-time assignment or may lead to a regular series of podcasts that students produce to share stories in the news.
- Identify activism efforts.
As students learn more about current events, they may want to take actions about an issue they care about. Explore what issues and topics are most important to students. Hen have them learn about advocacy and activism efforts that are taking place in their school, community or society. Or better yet, have them start their own action and get others involved. As a class, think together about the many ways youth can engage in activism and then use these ideas to implement an idea of their own or to join others’ efforts.