14-18 year olds

In many ways, 14-18 year olds use the internet and behave online as if they are adults. Using their phones or other devices to find information is likely to be second nature, whether it’s checking the news, scrolling through social media, learning new skills or research for school or college. Young people this age are likely to be most confident in their own abilities to navigate the online world and also the most informed of the realities of life online. However, there is always room for improvement; discussions about misinformation and reliability online can be valuable reminders that not everything is always as it seems. The online world is constantly changing and 14-18 year olds should take care to ensure that their ability to think critically also evolves and adapts with these changes.

What should critical thinking look like for young people aged 14-18?


14-18 year olds need to think carefully about content online which they want to share further or which may shape their behaviour offline. If they have doubts about whether something accurate or reliable they may want to ask themselves:

  • What do I already know about this topic?
  • Does this fit with my prior knowledge?
  • What is the message of what I have found?
  • What is the purpose of what I have found?
  • Who wrote/produced it?
  • Are they trustworthy?
  • What are their motives here?

This can help them determine to what extent something online can or cannot be trusted. Remember – it’s not always clear cut and not everything online is either ‘true’ or ‘fake’. Many fake stories and posts began with trustworthy information, which became exaggerated or distorted once online. Equally seemingly accurate and reliable content, may contain small fallacies, whilst opinion and fact can be hard to separate.

Depending on the extent of their mistrust of the content, and whether they believe it could be harmful to themselves or others, they could consider:

  • Refraining from sharing it further
  • Reporting it online
  • Speaking to an adult they trust
  • Spreading the word that it can’t be trusted.

14-18 year olds should build on the critical thinking skills they have developed earlier in life, and can strengthen these with their increasing life experience, intuition and common sense. However it’s useful to remind them that there are always people and places they can go to for more information and support if they need it.

Top Tips to share with children aged 14-18

  1. Online content has a range of motives – consider if something you see is trying to get your attention and clicks to generate money, is trying to convince you of a particular perspective, is deliberately trying to provoke an emotional response or is actually a joke/satirical.
  2. It’s important to think carefully about the source of information and content online, but sometimes that can be hard to find! Particularly on social media, messages and posts can be passed on many times so the original source is unclear or hidden, but it’s always worth trying to trace it backwards. Consider using reverse image searches, or checking for specific phrases on a search engine to see where content originated from.
  3. Do some further research – there’s lots of information out there so let’s see what else we can find on this subject. Check the comments below to see other people’s perspectives, check another website, watch another video or even try a fact checking organisation. The more sources that seem to say the same thing, and the more reliable those sources, the more confident we can be that the information can be trusted!
  4. Take action against unreliable information online – it can be tough to know what to trust online, especially when there’s so much misinformation out there. When we do find something inaccurate, the last thing we want to do is spread it further – consider reporting it, or letting friends and family know it can’t be trusted. Maybe leave a comment, but don’t share it on!
  5. Trust your instincts but get support if you need it. The online world can be fascinating, revealing, confusing and overwhelming in equal measures. If you think something doesn’t look right, then trust your instincts and question it further, but remember that there’s lots of people and places you can go to for help as well.

Conversation starter ideas

  1. What information do you find online? What do you use it for?
  2. Have you seen unreliable or fake content online? How did you know?
  3. Where do you think fake and unreliable content comes from? What is its purpose?
  4. What can you do if you find something fake or unreliable online? What should you do?
  5. Who can help you if you see something online that you’re not sure about?