Our world is becoming more and more crowded with media. Whether in our living rooms, on our commutes or in our classrooms, every waking moment can be occupied by consuming media. Whether it’s looking up “what causes earthquakes” on Google with my eldest son Emmett and finding a video to explain it, or the news feeds in stores and in elevators, media is here to stay, and will only get more ever-present. So how do we address this as parents?
I attended a presentation about Media Literacy for Kids at a National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) teacher’s conference this past year and wanted to share a few important lessons I learned, along with some of my own thoughts as a mom who has been making media for more than 20 years.
- Media is not inside you. Make efforts to teach your child from an early age that media is “outside of their bodies.” That may sound obvious, but research shows that young children often think that what they are watching is not only real, it is inside their heads. I told my four year old last year that what he sees on TV is on the screen, which is different from what is inside his mind. We went over it several times. I wasn’t sure he understood, but a few months later (kids are amazing how they store information, like nuts for the winter) he told his friend, “What you see in the movies is not inside your head!” and really seemed to have taken in the message. He went on to assure his friend that scary movies (we were talking about Avatar) are not that scary, because they are only on the screen, not inside your head.
- Watch “good media” with your kids. Make a point of watching some educational media with your children, especially if you let them watch both pure entertainment media and educational media. If you watch the educational media with them, you’ll be sending a message that it’s more important (i.e. worth your time, which is precious to them) and help them create healthy viewing habits. I watch Little Pim about twice a week with my two year-old, and he can see that this is something I make time for and enjoy with him, unlike the “Sing Yourself Silly” videos he watches, which I don’t usually sit down for. I also watch nature and science programs with my five year-old.
- Talk about the media they have seen. Whenever possible, ask your children to comment on the media they watched. This way you can make sure they aren’t taking away distorted messages (and help to correct it if they are) and can establish a dialog with your kids about what they have seen. This will become even more important as your kids grow older and see more and more challenging and sometimes disturbing media. When they are young, you can ask them to look for certain things in a show, like “see if you can find all the ducks” or “who is the kindest character?”. This teaches them active viewing skills, which is one of the most important cornerstones of media literacy.
This is especially important for girls, who will be bombarded with messages from the media about how they should look and act.
In short, help your children learn to be active and critical media consumers. Visual media has a strong sway on young children and can be much more mesmerizing than print and audio. If you teach your children to make healthy media choices, they will gravitate toward fun, educational shows when they get old enough to make their own choices. Media is here to stay, so let’s get smart about teaching media literacy to our kids. It’s likely they will be teaching us how to use the media of the future, but right now there is still a lot we can teach them.