Mama Madison: Raising wise media consumers

Some skepticism should go along with hero worship

I'm a trusting soul at heart when it comes to the media. I'm the woman that reads the cover of the National Enquirer in the grocery line and wants to believe, each and every week, that Jennifer Aniston is finally pregnant with her long-desired child. Or that Britney Spears may have actually found true love at last. But of course, I know in my heart of hearts, that what I am reading isn't actually "news" but more likely a little hopefully harmless piece of fiction created to entertain folks like me as we place our carrots on the checkout conveyor belt.

Sometimes, I succumb and bring one of the gossip rags home -- it's hard to resist a good bathroom-length article on Duchess Kate Middleton's pregnancy woes. But if one of my kids gets a hold of the weekly and asks if the latest on Justin Bieber's alleged drug use is true, I anounce this kind of "media" must be taken with a grain of salt. Sure, there might be a tidbit of actual fact here and there, but for the most part every one who reads this stuff knows it's a bunch of half-truths and, at times, no truth at all. I point out to them that the star being showcased is never actually interviewed in the article, but instead the "reporter" relies on "trusted sources" and unnamed "close friends." Things are different, I tell them, when it comes to more respected forms of journalism.

But with this past week's Lance Armstrong doping confession and Manti Te'O fake girl friend controversy, I am feeling the need to tell my kids the skepticism I have encouraged them to employ when leafing through Tiger Beat should also be extended to the mainstream media, as well. Especially, it seems, when it comes to sports stars.

My kids aren't big biking enthusiasts, but it pained me nonetheless to tell them that all those stories they read in Sports Illustrated for Kids about Armstrong -- one of the biggest sports legends of our time -- were a pack of lies. And my oldest, a huge college football fan, couldn't help feel anything but blindsided when he discovered the touching stories he heard on ESPN about Te'O's "girlfriend's" recovery from a serious car accident only to discover she had leukemia, were nothing but an elaborate not-exactly-in April Fool's joke.

SI for Kids and ESPN, while hardly bastions of hard-hitting investigative journalism, aren't exactly US Weekly, either. But I guess I need to consider warning my kids not to believe blindly what they see or hear, regardless of sources. I should probably advise them to keep their guard up at all times, and to remind them that if a story sounds too good to be true, whether it be a dope-free seven Tour de France wins or a college football star's "Love Story"-esque romance, it probably is.

But the Pollyanna in me will probably continue to encourage them to keep on believing that genuine inspirational stories, while perhaps rare, can still happen. It seems a lot less fun to parent in a world where I need to advise my kids to cast doubt on everything. I don't want them to start to question if 2012's "Sports Illustrated Sports Kid of the Year" Cayden Long, is actually in a wheel chair. Or if Kerri Strug was faking her sprained ankle when she painfully stuck that landing back in 1996. Or if the Russians might have actually thrown the "Miracle on Ice" game in that hockey movie they love so much.

I want them to still feel that it's ok to get caught up in the emotion of a great story, even if you risk ending up disappointed.

And I'm still holding out hope that maybe this time, Jennifer Aniston, really truly might be pregnant with twins.

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