Conspiracy theories have always existed. Especially in the case of significant or very bad events, they offer simple explanations for complicated relationships. Most often, the message is that a secret group of conspirators is supposedly guiding the destiny of the world. These people are then to blame for these events. Such narratives are spread mainly on the Internet and social networks. When your child begins to take an interest in world events – usually in adolescence – and increasingly moves independently on the Internet, sooner or later he or she will also come into contact with conspiracy myths. This can happen via an Internet star‘s video, a post on Facebook or a chain letter on WhatsApp.
Conspiracy narratives and fake news are similar because they contain information that is not true. Conspiracy theories, however, are more complex. They assume that everything – good as well as bad events – is planned to achieve a certain goal. Nothing is as it seems and the truth is deliberately kept secret.
Wars, assassinations or the outbreak of a worldwide pandemic are difficult to comprehend – for children and young people as well as for adults. Young people are just beginning to find their own identity and place in the world. They do not yet know exactly who they want to be and are looking for orientation. Conspiracy theories fulfill important needs:
Your child read something on the Internet about a conspiracy theory or searched for it himself? Now it depends on how it handles the information. Conspiracy narratives can be entertaining, and that’s why they are picked up again and again in various media: the mystery of the Bermuda Triangle, aliens living among us – such thought experiments can be interesting for children and young people and awaken their creativity.
Topics that are closer to our living world should be considered more critically. Conspiracy myths sow doubt above all and make young people susceptible to radical and extremist ideas. Talk to your child about such theories and help them classify and question them.
Take your child seriously, even if he or she begins to engage intensely with conspiracy narratives, accepts parts of them as truth, or exchanges ideas with adherents in communities. If you dismiss his interest with statements such as “Those are all just crazy conspiracy theories,” your child might distance himself from you and increasingly look for like-minded people online. Instead of confronting your child with counterarguments, they should critically question together: Who says what? Are there things that contradict each other? Are the sources trustworthy? Are there similar patterns in other conspiracy myths?
A critical approach to information is the most important tool against conspiracy theories. Show your child how to check the veracity of a source and provide access to reputable and age-appropriate news sources.
Can help with this:
News and information made especially for children, such as
Websites where you can check the truth of news: