Flying Penguins: On Fake News and Media Literacy

Did you know that there is one species of penguin that can fly?

I didn’t either, until Miss E. confidently informed me of this fact.

At first, I thought this was just some notion she imagined and didn’t think much of it. But then it was repeated whenever we talked about penguins (which happens surprisingly often). And repeated with the conviction from a 5-year-old who had learned a fact and just knew it to be the truth.

She is smart enough to know the difference between cartoons/ children’s stories and reality, so I knew she had to have been taught this in some place. And she was so convinced that I started to question myself…do penguins fly? Is there some new knowledge about penguins that I don’t have?  My world view was starting to crumble. Penguins, those birds known for being flight-less, can fly? So I went to the place most people go when they need a definitive answer…Google.

And I typed in flying penguin and was met with some surprising results from the BBC, a reputable news source, stating that, yes, penguins do in fact fly.

flyingpenguinsvideopenguinspeciesfly

And clicking on the video, it looks real. It’s a nature documentary, and there, right before my eyes, are flying penguins. (I’ve embedded the video at the bottom of the post if you want to see.)

Now, nestled between these two results, there was one more. flyingpenguinshoax

This one revealed that the video was a hoax, or an April Fools’ Day joke. Now, I, understanding how jokes work and that the BBC has a history of such things, had assumed this was probably the case when I saw the first two results. So I showed her the video and she said that, yes, that’s how she knew about it. But how did Miss E see this in the first place?

Well, it turns out that as part of an exploratory learning focus in kindergarten, students were encouraged to bring in animals, and the teachers would research the animals online and share information about them. And sure enough, one thing they saw was the video of flying penguins.

So I started to explain that, no, penguins can’t fly and this was just a joke video someone made. And her reaction?

Anger – anger that I was making fun of her. Anger that I was challenging what she said.

Now, maybe the teachers acted responsibly and told the class the video was a joke, but that didn’t translate to Miss E. What did is that penguins can fly, and she saw a  video of it, and she learned it at school, from someone in authority, from someone she can trust.

And I was telling her that she was wrong. I was telling her that her teachers – the people she trusts, and we trust, to provide knowledge – were wrong. Now I was shaking her world view. And she did not like it.

It, of course, doesn’t help that even if Miss E. was old enough to go to Google, she would not have necessarily found anything to correct the belief, but rather confirm it.

We were able to talk about it a bit more, and I showed her the other big BBC hoax, Spaghetti Harvest video, and I think she started to understand the situation. And later she asked if she could see more fake news stories. I haven’t asked if she still thinks penguins can fly.

And that’s how a reflection of the fake news phenomenon played out in our home. And I think it is a pretty good reflection.

Someone knows something, because they were taught it, or someone they trust shared their information. And this, often, already connects with something they believe, so it is easy to accept.

When presented with information to counter the idea, to provide context, or to give the right answer, the response is not initial acceptance. It’s anger. It’s denial. It’s the fear that they are being personally attacked.

And if they do more research, they may find further information to confirm it, as was available on Google.

So what’s the solution? Media literacy is a big part of it, taught from a very early age. With, perhaps, frequent reminders through life. Again, I don’t know how the video was framed when shown at school, so I am not going to blame the teachers for this. But it was a teachable moment for us that we worked through. And hopefully Miss E. has a better understanding that some things are presented as jokes. Or sometimes outright lies. And as has been discussed at length in the media, this is not a problem facing 5-year olds alone, but people the world over.

We have to take personal responsibility for it as well, and challenge it when we see it. I will, from time to time, be the annoying person who will try to clarify information, with sources, when forwarded an email filled with obvious lies, or a Facebook post with half-truths and misleading information. But often the response is as above. Anger. Denial. Or some reply like “Well, I didn’t actually believe what I posted/shared. I just thought it was interesting.” which is probably among the worst answers.

People will say they don’t have time to do the research to see if everything is real, or that it doesn’t really matter if they share something they are not 100% sure about. But it does matter. It matters to 5-year olds, and it matters to adults. It matters because knowledge is important. And the truth exists. Facts exist. Flying penguins do not.

I think there needs to be less information about flying penguins, and more about house hippos.

The Photo-challenge: Do you really need to share that picture of your kid?

I recently signed up for an Instagram account…and then as was pointed out by a few people…neglected to post any pictures on it for a week or so.

She's already building her photo collection.

She’s already building her photo collection.

The existence of Instagram, cell phone cameras, and good cell-phone or wireless internet availability means there is no shortage of pictures online, including of people’s kids. Lots and lots of pictures of people’s kids.

As a general rule, Jenn and I have avoided posting pictures of the kids, or at least pictures that are easily identifiable as them, or where their faces are clearly visible.

Why? I’m not really sure.

It’s not that we don’t have pictures of the kids. We also carry around our cell phones, and snap a photo when we see them doing something particularly cute.

In part, it’s the idea that things on the internet are open to everyone, and forever.

In part, it’s because of the ubiquity of kids’ photos online. The kids and their antics may be cute to us, but I’m not sure the whole world cares. If they want to see pictures, we can share them at some later date, or some other way.

And in part, it’s because our kids are too young to have a say in the matter of whether their photos are online or not, so we will opt on the side of caution and not post any picture.

(Miss E. is even challenging our decisions now. We had initially said we didn’t want her picture taken at day-care, but we changed our mind around Hallowe’en when she was upset a picture of her in costume wasn’t on the board with everyone else. And when she is old enough to have her own tech and be on social media, I’m sure she’ll post enough pictures to make up for the lost time.)

This can be difficult however, because other people don’t seem to have the same problem. Plenty of people post pictures of their kids, from the day they are born onward. That’s fine. It’s your kid. 

But more troubling is when people take pictures in public and post them, or in places where they really shouldn’t be taking pictures at all, such as at the swimming pool. 

Miss E. has been in swimming since a young age. Up until recently, it had been a parent-and-tot class, where she went in with one of us. Each class participants would have one day where they could take photos of the parent and kid together, but only on that day, and only of their own kid.

She is now in the class with other kids, no parents. Now the rule is supposedly ‘no pictures’. Yet, we continually see people at the pool, cell phones out, taking pictures of their kid at the pool. And they don’t seem to see it as a problem. 

I don’t know if I’m being overly-protective or sensitive, but even in a society where there is no end to photos and sharing, there should be some places where people stop and think about what they are doing, what pictures they are taking and whether they really need to have a picture to post to social media, instead of just watching the event as it happens. 

The three-year-old poet

Miss E. and I were out for a walk this evening after a nice spring rain.

She was talking about all the people in her family that she loved.

“What does love feel like?” I asked.

“Like birds in winter.”

I’m not really sure what it means, but it sure sounded pretty.

I could go into a discussion about the innocence of childhood and all that, but I think I’ll just leave it there…and accompany it with this picture from Miss E. at my brother’s wedding.

 

Enjoying the beauty of nature

Enjoying the beauty of nature

 

 

It making a child happy really the most important thing?

What is the most important thing when raising a child?

Is it to make them a good person? Or to keep them happy?

I was out with the kids this weekend and watched as a child was quite content playing dress-up and creative play and then was given a cheap toy from the gift shop because “it was only $2”.

The kid immediately grabbed it and started playing with it. The other adults who were with the child questioned if she needed the toy and the gift giver said “Well, as long as she’s happy, that’s the most important thing.”

But she was happy before, when she didn’t have the toy. Now it just seemed like it was a different thing that was occupying her. She was happy either way.

Why do we give gifts? And most especially why do we give gifts to children?

Is it to make them happy? Or is it to give us the impression that we had a role in making them happy. Or perhaps it’s because we ‘know’ that we are happy when we get new things, so we think it would make them happy too.

Miss E. has a fair number of toys, I will freely admit that. Not as much as some, but more than is probably necessary. Yet, she doesn’t ask for more toys and is quite happy with imaginative play.

Obviously as a parent or a family member of a child, you want to make them happy. But how we decide to do that can vary and can have a huge impact on the child, one we may not initially consider.

By giving gifts, do we enforce the idea of happiness through things? Do we kill the imagination in the child?

By focusing only on the gift giving or toy purchases, we reinforce that the best way to be happy is to be a consumer.

I would go further and argue that, as a parent, your primary goal shouldn’t even be to keep your child happy. Your goals as a parent should be to give your child a good life.

Now what is good? That’s a question that has been debated for many years by many people. It’s the basis of much philosophical and religious debates, and I’m not about to say I have an answer.

Giving in to your child’s every desires and teaching them can actually be bad for them. (See the Marshmallow Experiment – which suggested learning delayed gratification early in life correlated with success later in life.)

I don’t mean to come across as a “spare the rod, spoil the child” type of parent, because I’m really not.

But when it comes to raising my children, it means keeping them safe, and letting them know they are loved and cared for. But that might mean they fall when running and get a skinned knee.

It means letting them experience life and develop their own personality. But that might mean they make strange decisions and have their feelings hurt.

It means teaching them how to live in balance with society and the world. But that might mean they don’t always get their way.

Many parents want to keep their child happy, but by focusing on only making a happy child, they may lose the opportunity to make a whole child.

Three years flew by…time to celebrate with some dinosaur cake

It was only three short years ago that Miss E. was born.

That is a typical sentiment from a parent…”Oh where did the time go?”

When Miss E. was born, someone told me “The nights are long, but the years are short.” But looking back, was the time really that short? No quicker than any other set of three years. I think it would be more accurate to say, “The growth is slow, but the changes are quick,” or something akin to that.

I am amazed by the small changes we see, but mostly because we don’t seem to see them happening; more so, they just suddenly are there. Nearly every week I realize Miss E. can suddenly do something she couldn’t before, or is more a kid, and less a toddler.

  • She has always been a bit short, and up until recently was still wearing 24-month clothes. And then yesterday we realized she could reach the top of the table.
  • She engages in plenty of imaginary play and role-playing. This morning she was telling me about her imaginary friends, and a few weeks ago she re-enacted an animal show she watched at the Royal Botanical Gardens (RBG).
  • She moved from being potty trained to telling us not to come into the washroom because she could do it. Of course this level of independence still needs some adult supervision, lest an entire roll of toilet paper disappear somewhere.
  • She didn’t get jealous with the arrival of Mr. J. Instead, she has taken to feeding “her babies”, carrying them slings and role-playing as a mom, making sure everyone holds hands when “going shopping”, even if those people are her teachers at daycare.

The development of her personality is most amazing. She is a kid who loves pink, and dancing, and was very excited about ice dancing during the Olympics. But one of her favourite places is the RBG, where she likes to pet the reptiles, she thinks snakes are “so cute”, and she loves dinosaurs and trains. In fact, when we asked her, she wanted a “Dinosaur-Train-Princess” birthday party, so that’s what we gave her.

So, basically, she’s a kid. She’s curious, and she likes a mix of things we might consider weird, but to her all make sense. She likes them not because we say she should, but just because she likes them.

And it makes you wonder about the development of her personality. Is it developing, or is it just beginning to show in ways we actually notice? I’ll think about that more.

But for now, here are some pictures of the cake Jenn made for Miss. E.

Dinosaur eating a gummy bunny

Dinosaur eating a gummy bunny

Dinosaur Train! Dinosaur Train!

Dinosaur Train! Dinosaur Train!

A dino feeding frenzy

A dino feeding frenzy

It just wouldn't be accurate if the dinosaur didn't have some meat in its mouth.

It just wouldn’t be accurate if the dinosaur didn’t have some meat in its mouth.

Dinosaur Train Cake

The princess part comes from the candles…can you see it?

She loves it.

She loves it.

 

A trip to the Aquarium

Auntie Bean recently took Miss E. to Ripley’s Aquarium in Toronto.

Jenn and I tagged along.

Miss E. may not remember this in a few years, but she definitely had a good time, and this way there is proof she was there.

Shark Pond

At the ray petting tank.

Jelly fish wall

The jelly-fish wall

Jelly fish wall 2

Yellow jelly fish?

A tunnel among the sharks

A tunnel among the sharks

Sea horses

See the sea horses!

Sharks!

Rows and rows of shark teeth floating by above us.

Rays of light through the water

Rays of light through the water

Silhouette on the kelp sea

Silhouette on the kelp sea

Silhouette on the kelp sea-2

Look up there!

Canadian Waters

A scene from the Canadian Waters exhibit

Tropical fish tank

Look at all the fish Dada!

 

Saw-fish

Sawfish swimming buy

Parental Controls Required?

Miss E. is now insisting on using the washroom all by herself, not even letting us in the room with her. Which is great, except she’s not even three, and there is the certain fear she’ll make a very big mess.

But, you say, you’re her parent. Why allow that? Why not just tell her you are going to help her? In part because we want to encourage her independence.
And lately I’ve started to wonder how much control should a parent exert? Is it really worth the struggle?

There are times when I catch myself telling her she has to do something, or not do something, or move quicker, or slow down. And then I wonder; why? Is it worth getting anxious or upset about?

Yet, sometimes we catch ourselves trying to turn decisions over to her, like what we should have for dinner, or do during a day. We do this in part to ensure she’s actually eat the dinner we make, and don’t generally make her input the defining part of our decision-making, but we still ask.

When your child is a baby, your focus is basically making sure they are fed, and clothed, and safe. Their very existence depends on you being in control of the situation. And that can seem daunting, especially when you have other things going on in your head or your life, or have another child around.

As your baby grows into a toddler, and a little person, you want to teach independence, and teach them how to make their own decisions, but sometimes it’s easy to fall back on the default position of “I’ll do it, I’m the parent,” or the “Listen to me, because I said so.” (Partially because their decision making process doesn’t always seem to make sense.)

I am not sure if this is typical for parents, but I imagine trying to find the right level of control is something that continues as children get older.
It is a delicate balance between wanting to teach your children to be independent and self-sufficient in certain areas, and ensuring you still have the authority necessary, and the ability to keep them safe and making the right decisions.

But children learn from your example, in so many things, and I don’t think it’s healthy to set the example that one person is innately correct. Encouraging discussion is a good thing. I just have to remember she’s a toddler and sometimes discussing with or explaining to a toddler will take a little bit longer than I would typically like.

Wow…I’m already a pushover. And she’s not even three. I better get this figured out before she’s thirteen…