Working together through continuous learning to improve the quality of life for all in DeKalb County, Indiana
An education initiative of the Community Foundation of DeKalb County

Help kids understand media

The Star

by Nichole Hacha-Thomas

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Your preschooler badgers you daily about his need for the newest cereal, and your adolescent refuses to wear any clothes that don’t carry the coolest logo. How do you counteract the constant barrage of consumerism aimed at your children?

Parents and children alike love media — it surrounds us. Media helps us communicate with others, entertains us, informs us and persuades us. Is there anyone among us who has never laughed at a bumper sticker, or shared a favorite commercial with friends? Our children are immersed in a world of media messages, from television commercials to billboards to logos on clothing to banner ads online. Studies estimate that kids are exposed to anywhere from 247 to 3000 messages each day.

So how do we, as parents, help our children make sense of all of these messages? How do we help them become media literate? And why is it important that they are?

According to Jane Tallim, an educational specialist at an Ontario-area hospital, “Media literacy is the ability to sift through and analyze the messages that inform, entertain and sell to us every day. It’s the ability to bring critical thinking skills to bear on all media — from music videos and Web environments to product placement in films and virtual displays on NHL hockey boards. It’s about asking pertinent questions about what’s there, and noticing what’s not there. And it’s the instinct to question what lies behind media productions — the motives, the money, the values and the ownership — and to be aware of how these factors influence content.”

Helping our children ask questions about the messages they see every day can empower them to evaluate those messages. And by evaluating these messages, our children will have a better understanding of how those messages might be influencing them. Take a closer look at some of those messages with your kids, and ask these questions:

  1. Who created this message? Who is the author or sponsor?
  2. 2.Who is the target audience for this message? Ask if it is aimed at adults, preschoolers, teen-agers — how can they tell?
  3. What is the purpose of the message? Is it to inform, to entertain, to communicate or to persuade?
  4. What is the message? Consider both the overt message and the covert one. If the message is selling a product, what does it communicate about what your life will be like if you buy the product?
  5. What information is missing from this message? Does the message supply all of the facts, or is some information conveniently left out?
  6. What techniques are being used to attract attention? The techniques can vary from using celebrities, humor and music to attract kids.

Understanding the techniques and motivation behind media messages can enable kids to be wiser consumers of the information that surrounds them. Being media literate can assist kids in making decisions about their lives based on what they know will be right for them, and not on what someone else tells them they need.

Learning Link, launched in 2009, is an initiative of the DeKalb County Community Foundation that helps link people and organizations providing learning opportunities for children and adults and align their educational goals. This series, “What’s in your parenting toolbox?” is written by the Adult Lifelong Learning team which encourages adults to improve themselves, their families and their community through continuous learning.

Resources to understand media literacy