Parents urged to discuss anxiety caused by coronavirus fake news with children

Parents are being urged to talk to children about their coronavirus concerns in the face of anxiety-inducing fake news and online scaremongering.

As young people across the UK prepare for school closures, psychologist Dr Linda Papadopoulos has warned the public to be mindful of the potentially overwhelming amount of information on the outbreak easily within children’s reach.

As well as engaging in conversation about the issue, parents are advised to show children how they can check the source of the information themselves, under new guidance issued by Internet Matters.

The five key tips highlighted by the nonprofit also say parents should discuss the impact of reposting false information, as well as encouraging children to mute, block and report profiles, posts and information that may be triggering and unverified.

“I think the important thing is that you don’t become either so desensitised – these things don’t have an impact anymore – or you don’t become so hyper-aware that you feel like you can’t make a move, so for me it’s all about mitigating that by breaking it down,” Dr Papadopoulos told the PA news agency.

“It’s so unavoidable, but what you want to do is present it in a way that is digestible, it’s understandable.”

The psychologist told parents to keep the door open for further questions in the future, given that the outbreak could go on for some time.

“This is a confusing time for everybody but can be particularly anxiety-inducing for children, especially if they are seeking out information on their own that may not be true,” she said.

Dr Linda Papadopoulos
Dr Linda Papadopoulos

“It’s vital parents are on top of this and talking to their children openly, using age-appropriate tools to protect them and checking in on their digital wellbeing regularly.”

Carolyn Bunting, chief executive of Internet Matters, said: “With so much information coming from a range of sources, it can be hard for adults to know which ones to trust, let alone young people.

“Fake news can lead to confusion and anxiety and have a negative impact on children and young people’s wellbeing.”

Snapchat was planning to launch a new mental health feature, Here For You, in early April but has decided to move it forward to help anyone experiencing anxiety and stress about the pandemic.

The multimedia messaging platform has worked on the project with Young Minds, Samaritans and the Diana Award in the UK.