A short while back, University of Pennsylvania Professor Ethan Mollick used Midjourney 6, an AI-powered image creation app, to demonstrate how far AI had come to create some realistic images of a full-scale Hello Kitty invasion of the U.S. It was pretty cool – he did it on his phone.

Mollick said he chose the topic because it’d be obvious that the photos weren’t real, but it’s not entirely clear to us that our youngest students would be certain Hello Kittavia isn’t actually an aggressive world power.  Either way, it’s clear that our ability to create convincing fakes is fast outpacing our ability to detect them.


Given the rapid acceleration of technology, what sort of guidance can teachers give their students for navigating rapidly changing digital landscape? Here are five habits of mind teachers can encourage in students to prepare them to flourish:

1. Ask Yourself: Do I Know What I’m Looking At?

In Verified, Sam Wineburg and Mike Caulfield encourage adults to pause when they encounter material online and ask themselves: do I really know what I’m looking at?  If not, some further investigation is warranted. It’s great advice.  In fact, we think this approach is equally applicable to kids!

In the case of the Hello Kitty invasion, we’d have to consider: this is surprising information.  Has it been reported elsewhere? 

To find out, we could do some lateral reading – that is, looking up “Hello Kitty invasion” to see if other sites independently confirm it.  As Wineburg and Caulfield suggest, we can “use the web to read the web.”

In this case, while students might find a BBC story from a decade ago about “the cat that conquered the world” (Mollick himself pointed that out), there will be thankfully little evidence of a feline uprising.

2. Cultivate a Skeptical Stance, Not a Moral Panic

One way to prepare our kids to engage in things like lateral reading is to counsel them to approach information online as questionable until proven otherwise.

This doesn’t require adopting a cynical outlook. When we believe nothing is especially trustworthy, it makes us susceptible to ingesting all kinds of false claims. After all, if nothing is true, anything could be. Instead, we can take a beat before reposting content or taking it to heart.

Kids need practice with healthy skepticism: raising a well-cocked eyebrow of surprise and saying “we’ll see” before swallowing and sharing unexpected information.  But for that skepticism to be healthy, it can’t be rooted in fear or joykilling.

As researcher Faith Rogow points out: “Dangers exist, and we address them.  But we rightfully choose not to make them the center of our literacy practice.” Information literacy doesn’t need to be about fear and loathing. Instead, we might encourage students’ curiosity and their natural inclination toward both wonder and skepticism. 

3. Understand the Algorithms

It’s really important that kids understand their social media newsfeed isn’t a carefully curated list of things they’ll find helpful.  It’s a list of things they’ll engage with – whether they are helpful, harmful, or anywhere in between. 

If their social media algorithm sees they’ll engage with images of Hello Kitty robots destroying buildings, it’ll do its best to serve those images to them, again and again.  This can result in a newsfeed bias that makes unvetted or untrue ideas seem far more mainstream than they are.


The algorithm doesn’t care; it’s just here for the clicks – just as happy to serve junk food as it is vegetables, as long as users keep coming back. 

Parents and teachers need to be aware of this and ready to support kids in seeking out sources beyond their bubbles.  Because questionable sources tend to take questionable positions, even if they sound sure about them.

4. Online Opinions Are Like Noses…

…everyone has one, and usually it’s full of snot.  

That means that no matter how confident someone sounds, we need to ask ourselves if they have evidence to back up their claims – evidence that can be confirmed with reliable sources.

It’s easy to throw around statements like “they say” or “research says,” but without credible and reliable evidence, we’re all just playing at pocket punditry.

And even when somebody does have expertise, it’s important to make sure that expertise is in the thing they are speaking about.  You’d be amazed at how quickly people are to burnish their online credentials.  (Think back: how many people claimed to be AI experts within the first few weeks of the technology emerging?)

Students may be impressed when they see that Ethan Mollick is a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, but when they learn that he is a professor at the Wharton School of Business, it might help them be skeptical of his ability to provide them with late-breaking geopolitical news. 

All of these habits aren’t natural, and kids won’t develop them on their own.  If we wait until they’re older, they’ve already had years of practice using information in ways that could harm them.  So what can we do?

5. Start Earlier.  A Lot Earlier.

This last one is probably the most important.  For decades, the majority of work in media literacy has focused on high school or maybe upper middle school.  But given that the vast majority of kids are online by age 8, it needs to start much, much earlier.

That’s why states like New Jersey, California, and Delaware are passing laws requiring as much.  

This is a big opportunity for us to rethink how we approach media literacy.  Too often, media literacy is only taught through informational texts or using current events.  But that approach

1) encourages media literacy only as defense-against-the-dark-arts and 2) isn’t necessarily appropriate for younger students.

To help teachers and caregivers navigate this terrain, we’ve created a new approach: teaching media literacy through fiction. University of Virginia Professor of Psychology Daniel Willingham notes that scientists often call narrative “psychologically privileged,” since we’re more likely to remember what we learn from it than other types of texts.  

So, let’s use that to make teaching these mindsets easier! Gram and Gran Save the Summer is our attempt to remedy this situation.  


The book is a series of Encyclopedia Brown-style mysteries designed to explore critical media literacy skills: from detecting bias to evaluating reliability to understanding how social media algorithms work.  It’s designed to generate conversations naturally, but we’ve created a FREE teacher guide to make that even easier. 


Making the Digital Landscape a Tiny Bit Safer

When we present tools for separating credible sources from incredible ones, it can be easy to divide the world up into media masters and dupes, innocents and trolls. That’s going to ring false to anyone who’s spent any time online: the fact is, the Hello Kitty Revolution could be a dangerous deception or a delightful flight of fancy. In many ways, it’s a bit of both.

Our kids deserve an approach that nourishes their curiosity, respects them as intellectuals (and people who are likely already online), and helps them build dispositions that can carry them into adolescence and adulthood.

So the next time Hello Kitty attacks (or doesn’t, as the case may be), they’ll be ready.


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5 Ways to Bolster Your Kids’ Digital Literacy Skills or The Hello Kitty Army Is Probably Not Invading was authored by:
Stephen Chiger and Daniel Pereira

Stephen Chiger and Daniel Pereira are award-winning educators and authors of Gram and Gran Save the Summer, a book designed to teach media literacy skills to readers in elementary and middle school.

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