I've come to accept in the course of my media and political work, and in pursuing my journalism degree, that getting adults to examine or improve the way they encounter news, journalism and other media is a long, slow process, when it's even possible at all. Indeed, reversing and repairing some of the trends we've seen in recent years around the spread of misinformation, the vilification of journalists and the outright denial of science and facts may take generations.
Helping young people learn media literacy while they are still forming their media consumption habits, then, feels especially important. I'm no expert on this subject, but now I at least have a few years of direct experience as a parent trying to help our daughter develop and sharpen her own media literacy skills. Here are some experiments, tools and tactics I've found helpful along the way:
Talking about the media we encounter
Whether it's on a walk, drive, bike ride or just out to check the mail, I've tried to talk with my daughter about what she is seeing and hearing.
From an early age when she would excitedly open up the mailbox and find that booklet of coupons and advertisements from local businesses, we labeled those mailers "opportunities" and talked through what those businesses wanted us to do in looking through their ads, along with the pros and cons of us actually doing those things.
We'd point out billboards and talk through the process that led to some realtor's face or some grand sale being proclaimed to passers-by day and night.
At stores we'd point out the ways that packaging was designed to attract and compel a purchase, and how that could sometimes differ from the reality that would unfold after the purchase. We also talk about store and business names and what feelings or ideas they are trying to invoke in someone looking at them. What is a Dollar Store or a Party City and why did they call it that?
We don't have much exposure to TV ads at home given our use of streaming services, but when traveling we talk through the ads on hotel TVs and what they are offering, and why they use the approach they do.
Now, when my daughter encounters signs, packaging and advertisements, she's on the lookout for the motive behind the message, and she does a surprisingly good job of unpacking what's really happening.Continue reading "Helping kids learn media literacy"