6 tips for teens on how to develop critical thinking

Me sitting in front of a laptop

My name is Marianna and I am 19 years old. I live in Kyiv, Ukraine.

We all know how important it is for young people to stay safe and savvy online. With the rise in 'fake news’, experts have warned us to check sources carefully, pay attention to manipulative headlines and think twice about the stories we share with friends.

Like me, you have probably heard these tips many times. But I didn’t truly become media literate until I took the time to develop critical thinking.

Media literacy affects the way we look at and perceive the world. For me, it started at school, when I was constantly writing research papers for competitions. I had to carefully check all the facts because I needed to be ready for anything when it came to defending my paper. And today, at Model United Nations conferences, I have to be sure of every word I say.

Here are six ways that you can, too.

1. Online games

Let’s start with the simplest way – online games. Maybe you are skeptical about them, or you play every night. It doesn’t matter, because you can always join.

My first game about critical thinking was the one that, for me, destroyed the myths about decentralization – My Community. At that time, I didn’t know much. But the game helped me work things out and debunk the main myths.

There are lots of games like this – you can easily find them on your own. Of the most popular, I can recommend the following:


2. Books

The first time I seriously got into critical thinking began with the book by Oksana Moroz, The Nation of Vegetables? How Information Changes the Thinking and Behaviour of Ukrainians. My grandpa gave me the book as a present. I liked that there were many specific examples of ways to counteract information overload, so I continued to search for similar books.

There are a lot of books about critical thinking, and you can decide whether to read them all. You can read Hans Rosling’s Factfulness, which teaches you to read between the lines and discuss misconceptions about the world. Another good option is Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow, where you will learn how our irrationality affects our actions.

A good idea is to read the reviews before the book itself. Pay attention not to how many stars a book is given, but to the impression that it left on readers.


3. Internships at fact-checking initiatives

Internships can make you look at the world in a new way. Initiatives, organisations and projects that are often looking for volunteers include VoxCheck, StopFake, On the Other Side of the News, Without Lies, Internews-Ukraine and Media Detector. And if there is no vacancy available, just email them – they will hear you. After all, there is much more fake news than people ready to unravel it.


4. Generating your own content

Another option is to create your own fact-checking platform or media literacy blog. In this way, you will realize several goals simultaneously:

  • join the process of change;
  • independently investigate fake news and distinguish it much better;
  • gain an opportunity for self-expression and new social contacts.

Self-study really helps – you learn to read the texts that lie beyond the first page of the search engine, and you forget about prejudices and stereotypes. Of course, a big blog will need the help of at least one other person – for example, if you don’t know how to design a webpage or if you have difficulty editing text. But, like this, you will also be able to find new friends, because there are more future change-makers nearby than you think.


5. Conferences and webinars on media literacy

This is necessary if you are used to learning from someone and not on your own.

Fortunately, there are so many webinars now that there are plenty to choose from, and most of them are available for free. In addition, at the end of some online courses, they open a set of internships at the organisations that created them, so you are able to master some practical skills later on.

Not sure which webinars to start with? I helped to start YNGO PLUS, a youth organisation that runs informal educational projects for young people. Sometimes we hold webinars on media literacy and critical thinking, so feel free to join us on social media and stay tuned.


6. DilemMe Critical Thinking Board Game

You might be asking – why are you writing about critical thinking at all?

It is because my team and I are also working on the first board game about critical thinking and media literacy called DilemMe. We developed the concept during an online hackathon on media literacy called INFOTON, organized by UNICEF and supported by USAID.

What do you do when a neighbour tells everyone to take garlic as a medication? What if a friend denies the existence of HIV? These are the situations you must face in the game. For each situation – and there are as many as three hundred in the game – we have created a QR code which links to tips and links for further research, if you are interested.

We have been working on the board game for a very long time. Not only did we create it during a pandemic, but all members of the team live in different cities of Ukraine. One of us even lives in Riga now! However, we are all united by the desire to prove that critical thinking is a skill worth learning.

Develop critical thinking and don’t let fake news flood the world!

About Marianna Iovenko:

I am 19 years old, I was born and live in Kyiv. I am a third-year student of law at the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy and, since 2020, I have been the head of the youth non-governmental organization PLUS. I also actively participate in sessions of the European Youth Parliament. Following my participation in INFOTON, run by Inscience and UNICEF, I helped to create a board game about critical thinking and countering fake news. In my free time, I write fiction, learn foreign languages ​​on my own, travel and jog.