Teaching and Learning Media Literacy

Parents and adults have a responsibility to teach children media literacy, even if they are not sure what media literacy is.  Media literacy is first and foremost an ability to understand mediated messages, to think through those messages so that we remain an informed, without succumbing to the messages that may not meet our personal values and beliefs. As parents and adults, it falls to us to help young children learn to decode mediated messages while allowing them to experience and learn to use media. 

 It’s clear that very young children need to be guided through the myriad of mediated messages presented to them.   We’ve learned in recent posts that commercial messages are specifically designed to create consumption, whether the item being peddled is a toy or fast food.  Children do not recognize this, and as parents, teachers and adults, it is our responsibility to create an environment that allows children to explore media while learning to make decisions about what they are seeing or interacting with online.

But how much do adults pay attention to these messages?  We know that children are watching television alone and playing online alone.  Who is guiding their learning?    If adults abdicate their responsibility to teach media literacy, perhaps it’s because adults themselves aren’t truly media literate.   But there are ways for the entire family to learn to become media literate together.

As noted in previous posts, there are many resources for adults to engage themselves and their young children in age appropriate activities designed to promote media literacy.   Here a few to add to the list:

An e-zine entitled “Over the Rainbow” can be found at:   http://medialiteracy01.tripod.com/raceandmedia/index.html .  This site offers articles and activities to bring parents and children together to discuss media and diversity.

Become active in your families media diet through the Parents Television Council site, which offers research, tools to help you make informed viewing choices and advocacy tools.  It can be accessed at: http://www.parentstv.org/.

The key to media literacy is critical thinking.  Teaching critical thinking doesn’t have to be a time-consuming, research driven effort.  Just keep in mind these basic ideas:

  • Remember that for children under two, no more than two hours of screen time for pre-school children is acceptable, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.  The AAP also recommends NO screen time for babies.
  • Don’t fall prey to the “it’s educational” marketing messages you receive.   While it’s true that some programs and DVDs may help young children learn, nothing can replace one-on-one time with an adult and a book.   
  • Let children play.  Play is necessary for learning.  Encourage simple play.
  • “Whenever possible, use media with your children and discuss what they see, hear and read.”  http://justthink.org/
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