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The Importance of Media Literacy: A Parent’s Guide

SUREN on December 20, 2018

We tend to put ‘the media’ under a single umbrella. In reality, however, not all media is the news media! The media encompasses books, films, music, TV shows, video games, magazines, podcasts, social media, newspapers, music videos, web forums, newsletters, and much much more.

While we’re all aware of the influence the media has on people, not many are aware of the degree to which it can impact adults… and children can be impacted even more severely. According to Media Literacy Now, the average kindergartner sees about 70 media messages a day, and by the time they’re teenagers, they’re spending a shocking one-third of their entire day consuming media of different kinds.

iSpeakMedia reports that people are now spending an average of 11 hours a day looking at media messages. A good amount of this information is interesting, important and even educational. Unfortunately, children (and many adults) often just look at media, and don’t truly understand the information they’re examining nor absorb it. The ability to navigate the media, understand, analyse and critique the messages that are sent and received is what’s known as media literacy.

Media literacy in the 21st century is crucial, particularly for young adults and children. With the rapid growth of social media and smartphones over the past few years, children are getting exposed to more media at a younger age. It’s hard to know where to draw a line on interrupting children and their use of smartphones, but with reference to the media they’re exposed to, there are two main things that you as a parent should focus on:

  1. Media messages: The values and ideas promoted by the media

  2. Media effects: The effects and consequences that they have on people looking at them.

The History of Media

However, if you think that concern over media and its negative effects has only recently begun to do the rounds, think again! The concerns have been around for a long time, dating back to the heydays of print media in the form of yellow journalism.

Many websites use clickbait, using sensationalist or misleading headlines to get more people to click on links and subsequently generate more traffic for the website. There’s nothing new under the sun, though - and clickbait was present back in the early days of newspapers, albeit in a different form.

Yellow journalism, or using sensationalist headlines to catch eyes and exaggerate stories without any well-backed research, was used from the tail-end of the 19th century through a large part of the 20th century. Huge drawings meant to capture eyes were used to draw more people in. The ‘fake news’ and ‘tabloid journalism’ we’re tackling today draw their origins from a long time ago.

How to Help Your Children with Media Literacy

Parents may wonder where their children draw the boundaries between the virtual world and real-world experiences, as the media was and still is responsible for a lot of negativity, negative influences and sending out the wrong message.

Responsible consumption of media and creation of responsible media both exist, and following the right kind of media is the best possible way to get children to change their perceptions on the media and the world.

Critical Thinking

Train your children (and yourselves) to become critical and skeptical thinkers. Teach them to look at the information they come across and take a step back, assess what they’re seeing and try to understand what it means, why it’s out there, who it's targeted to and whether or not it’s true.

Key Questions for Media Literacy

When analysing media, ask yourself:

  1. Why was this made?

  2. Who created it?

  3. How do I know this is true?

  4. How will different people interpret it?

  5. Who benefits from this message?

  6. Who gets harmed by this message?

  7. What is missing?

Fake and exaggerated news is something that children can come across in any kind of situation where they interact with the online world. Whether it’s articles they come across while researching for homework, or advertisements claiming to give out free stuff, it’s essential to inculcate into children the importance of analysis and critical thinking in finding truly credible information.

With the constant expansion of the digital world, teaching the next generation to become critical thinkers will be a huge game-changer. Attention spans across the world have taken a hit with easy access to information, leaving people prone to false information and trust in non-credible sources. That’s why media literacy is more important than ever, as new generations take on the world.

 

Writing credit: Authored by Suren, the co-founder and CEO of Mobicip, and a passionate advocate for mobile learning and Internet safety. Suren speaks or hosts panels at conferences and seminars on these topics for parents and educators. He also serves as a consultant for educational technology projects in K-12 schools and school districts. 

Keep in touch with the latest on parenting, technology and education. Subscribe to the Mobicip newsletter. Learn more at www.mobicip.com.

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