Media literacy has been seen as a new approach to helping young people make good decisions regarding their health. Being observant of media is as important as the classes they take. Media have an impact on adolescents’ sexual and aggressive behavior. It also has an impact on body satisfaction and eating disorders. Females are exposed to the thin-ideal when they watch the media meaning that almost every girl in the media has a thin figure. This can result in females developing eating disorders. It can also affect adolescents’ alcohol use and cigarette smoking. Actors or actresses binge drinking or chain smoking in a commercial or television program could cause adolescents to adopt the same habits (Brown, 2006).
When applied to health, media literacy means opening people’s eyes so they can see that the media acts as a business. If awareness of how media is produced increases, then people (including adolescents) will be more critical of the messages that they receive from media (Brown, 2006).
Changing the behavior of media is more difficult than changing the behaviors of people that are exposed to media. Health advocates have had very little success in getting media to provide content that is healthier. In the 1970s, cigarette advertising was removed from radio and television; however, tobacco remerged in other forms of media. According to Roberts & Christenson (2000), approximately one in five episodes of prime time television showed people using tobacco products. According to Dozier et al. (2005), nearly all the top movies display people smoking. The actors that smoke in these movies are portrayed as being attractive and having a high social status. People should look for ways to reduce harmful media effects instead of only focusing on trying to change media (Brown, 2006). One way to protect people from harmful media effects is to teach them media literacy.
Media literacy has been practiced in Great Britain, Canada and Australia for decades. Media literacy education is currently gaining support in the US. There has been a media literacy movement in the US that has given birth to two organizations that have advanced media training. These organizations are Alliance for a Media Literate America (AMLA) and Action Coalition for Media Education (ACME). The problem with the media movement in the US is that there has been a lack of evaluations of different media literacy interventions (Kubey, 1998). There have only been a few studies that indicated that media literacy training increases critical thinking about the media’s messages (Brown, 2006; Robinson et al. 2001).
Three areas that practitioners and researchers agree are necessary and fundamental in media literacy education are authors and audiences; messages and meanings; and reality and representation. The table below shows a theoretical framework for media literacy that can be used by educators:
Media Literacy Domain Related Media Literacy Core Concepts
Authors and Audiences AA1: Authors create media messages for profit and/or influence.
(AA) AA2: Authors target specific audiences.
Messages and Meanings MM1: Messages contain values and specific points of view.
(MM) MM2: Different people interpret messages differently.
MM3: Messages affect attitudes and behaviors.
MM4: Multiple production techniques are used.
Representation and Reality RR1: Messages filter reality.
(RR) RR2: Messages omit information.
(Primack et al. 2006)
Primack et al. (2006) suggested that even knowing little about the intentions of the media can improve adolescents’ health. They found that increases of one point on the Smoking Media Literacy Scale were significantly related to decreased numbers of smokers and future smokers. If adolescents become media literate, they can begin to understand why unhealthy behaviors are portrayed in the media and make decisions that are more beneficial to their overall well-being (Brown, 2006).
One study showed that one media literacy training sessions can increase skepticism among adolescents (Austin et al. 2006). According to Brown (2006), all 50 states now have at least one element of media literacy as part of their school’s requirements.
According to Bergsma and Carney (2007), adolescents should be taught the core media concepts. The first concept is all media messages are constructed. Adolescents should be taught how the media differs from reality. Adolescents can discuss media clips shown in class and compare them to their real life experiences. The second concept is that all media messages are created using creative language with its own rules. Adolescents should be taught how to recognize advertising and production techniques. An effective way to teach this would be to show adolescents clips of advertisements and have them discuss advertising or promotion techniques that they saw in the clips. The third concept is that different adolescents experience the same message differently. Educators should have students view clips online and have them write how it impacted them. The fourth concept is that media have embedded values and points of view. Educators should teach students how to identify stereotypes, myths, biases, values, and lifestyles represented in media messages. The last concept is most media messages are constructed to gain profit or power. Educators should teach students about the purpose of advertising and marketing strategies.
Adolesc Health 2006;(39)4:465–72. Roberts DF, Christenson PG. “Here’s Looking at You, Kid”: Alcohol, Drugs and Tobacco in Entertainment Media. Washington, DC: Kaiser Family Foundation, 2000.
Austin EA, Chen Y-C, Pinkleton BE, Johnson JQ. Benefits and costs of Channel One in a middle school setting and the role of medialiteracy training. Pediatrics 2006;117:423–33.
Bergsma, L., Carney, M. (2007). Effectiveness of health-promoting media literacy education: a systematic review. Oxford Journal; 23(3):522-542.
Dozier DM, Lauzen MM, Day CA, et al. Leaders and elites: portrayals of smoking in popular films. Tob Control 2005;14(1):7–9.
Kubey R. Obstacles to the development of media education in the United States. J Commun 1998;Winter:58–69.
Primack BA, Gold MA, Land SR, et al. Association of cigarette smoking and media literacy about smoking among adolescents. J
Robinson TN, Wilde ML, Navracruz LC, et al. Effects of reducing children’s television and video game use on aggressive behavior: a randomized controlled trial. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med 2001;155(1): 17–23.