Empowering Your Children Through Media Literacy

Article at a Glance

  • Media literacy is a complementary skill to core literacy.
  • Understanding how to evaluate media is an important life skill.
  • Everyday life is filled with opportunities to model and teach media literacy.

In our media-saturated world, being literate requires mastering a set of skills beyond reading and writing. Engaging with media can certainly improve core literacy skills, but being able to analyze, understand, and evaluate media is an essential next step in becoming a critical thinker.

What is media literacy?

The Center for Media Literacy originally defined media literacy as “the ability to access, analyze, evaluate and create media in a variety of forms” but also acknowledges that the definition is changing over time. Because everyone and anyone can create and publish content, media literacy is an educational imitative to help children navigate media, practice analytical skills, and creative content using books, videos, blogs, news websites, social media, and more.

As soon as children begin consuming media, media literacy is a powerful tool to help improve comprehension and deepen their learning experience.

Media Literacy for Preschoolers

The foundation of teaching young children about media literacy is helping them understand that all the media they see, hear, or explore with a click is information. They can use this information to better understand the world around them.

For example, with nature or educational kid shows, you can have a discussion that compares and contrasts what they learn by watching the show versus what they have learned in their day-to-day lives. Asking questions that have them process and summarize the information they’ve consumed, like:

  • What happened in the story?
  • How did it make you feel?
  • Who is telling the story?
  • What did you think about the story?
  • What did you like best about this story?
  • Is the story like anything you’ve experienced?

Media Literacy in Middle Childhood

Elementary school students learn in school through a variety of media like films, YouTube videos, books, news broadcasts, and presentations. In their personal lives, they may also consume additional media like television programs, YouTube videos, and social media. As parents, we can help our kids learn they shouldn’t rely on a single source of information. Model how you balance different sources to understand new terms and ideas, learn new skills, or explore the world. As you teach your children to use more than one source, talk about the sources, and compare and contrast their value and clarity to strengthen the learning process. These analytical and information-gathering skills will lay the groundwork for a more in-depth analysis of source materials.

Media Literacy for Teens

Kids entering middle school are less likely to ask for a parental opinion before conducting their own online investigation into a topic or current event. They’re rapidly developing independent ideas and shaping their own unique worldview. Media literacy (or the lack of it) plays an impactful role in developing their identities.

  • Demonstrate the importance of research and healthy skepticism. Engage in age-appropriate conversations about what they are learning what they’re interested in, and what resources they have at their disposal to learn more.
  • Invite your teen to help you research something that interests you both. Working together, you can share your research skills and how you go about evaluating credible sources or verifying a claim.
  • Often, one disastrous recipe or DIY craft project is enough to help most teens appreciate the value of a credible source. Use this as an opportunity to model how you identify red flags that information is biased, unreliable, untested, or false.

Media Literacy for High Schoolers

Media literacy is an essential part of teens maturing into young adults. Learning to distinguish between credible and incredible sources can help us gain the confidence to voice our opinions and back them up with evidence.

  • Encourage teens to learn about current events and research a controversial topic. Ask them to consume media that challenges their own biases and assumptions.
  • Invite them to discuss their thoughts on the problems they hear and see on the news, social media, or elsewhere.
  • Teach them to recognize information traps like bias, echo chambers, and herd mentality.
  • Encourage them to think about the other side of the argument and model your own commitment to challenging your own assumptions and biases.

Media literacy can be an effective tool to help our kids think and grow into intelligent citizens of the world. As they deepen their skills, continue to guide them to age-appropriate content that will empower them and fuel their curiosity. Understanding how to find and evaluate information is a big step in becoming a lifelong learner.

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