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Story highlights

Turn to news sources designed for kids

Watch debates together with your children and have discussions about them

Talk about the role of social media in elections with your teens

Today, when the latest campaign trail gaffe or political scandal goes viral, your kids will likely hear about it before you do. How will they know whether a claim or a charge is based in fact, an unsubstantiated smear, or typical campaign overstatement?

For today’s teens, social media is their primary news source. According to a study by the University of Chicago, nearly half of young people age 15–25 get news at least once a week from family and friends via Twitter or Facebook. And they can’t necessarily tell fact from fiction. The presidential candidates now use Twitter to spin their messages and slam their opponents. One of the study’s conclusions: “Youth must learn how to judge the credibility of online information and how to find divergent views on varied issues.”

The media plays a huge role in our country’s political process. And with the 24/7 news cycle, those effects are magnified. On the plus side, there are plenty of age-appropriate resources at your fingertips, some of which we’ve listed below. Here’s how you can help your kids become media-savvy participants in democracy.

Related: What should I say to my kids about negative political ads?

Elementary School Kids

Seek out kid-friendly news. Turn to news sources designed for kids, such as HTE Kids News, Time for Kids, and Scholastic Kids Press Corps. These news websites break down the events of the day in age-appropriate terms, while avoiding stuff you probably won’t want them exposed to.

Decode ads. When a political ad comes on TV or is striped across or down the side of a computer screen, talk to your kid about the claims the ad is making and how music and visuals are used to persuade viewers. Talk about why there are so many negative ads – and why they work.

Read kid-friendly books about American politics. Check out Bad Kitty for President, which does a surprisingly good job of explaining the U.S. political system. And since candidates are always referring to the founding fathers, find out what they were really like in The Founding Fathers: Those Horse-Ridin’, Fiddle-Playin’, Book-Readin’, Gun-Totin’ Gentlemen Who Started America. See Where Was Patrick Henry on the 29th of May? and Why Don’t You Get a Horse, Sam Adams? for a taste of colonial-era politics.

Keep the bombast at bay. Kids may not understand concepts such as abortion, guns, troops, and immigration, but they can certainly feel the emotion behind the rhetoric. Try to change the station and mute the TV when you can. Kids will pick up on your reactions – and they sometimes feel at fault for causing them – so if a candidate makes you mad, explain that the man or woman on TV made you feel that way and why.

Related: Explaining the news to our kids

Middle School Kids

Watch one or more of the many televised candidate debates. Discuss the issues during the commercials and after it’s over. Ask your kid: Whom do you think won, and why? Did the moderator challenge the candidates or just let them spout their talking points?

Talk about political advertising. How is a political ad like a regular commercial for a product? Is it selling a candidate just like another sells cereal? Who paid for the ad you’re watching? Can political ads actually influence the outcome of an election? Watch political movies to see how fictional political strategies mirror real-life ones.