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The Importance of Teaching Our Children Media Literacy

Many parents know that, despite the supposed dangers that the media constantly hypes, our kids are much safer playing in the park or riding their bikes around the neighborhood than sitting at home watching TV. Of course, at the very core of a sound parenting strategy is knowing how to cut through the bull that the media purveys and other parents fall for in order to decipher what really puts our kids at risk. In my personal opinion, the insidious effects of being constantly exposed to media are much more dangerous, in the long-term, than any of these other “horrors” like bullying, sexual predators, etc. That is why I’ve made it my mission to educate my children about the less obvious messages that TV, the Internet, movies, and the news transmit so that they know how to think critically about what they’re watching.

Many parents will tell me that they don’t allow their precious little Johnny to watch TV or spend too much time on the Internet. They have a similar bone to pick with the juggernaut that is the media, but their approach is a short-sighted, sheltered one. Protecting our kids from media by limiting or restricting exposure will only work for so long. We don’t, unfortunately, live under a rock, and if your kids aren’t watching TV or surfing the Net at home, they’ll eventually find a way to do so. No one can hide from advertisements, violent or hyper-sexualized images, etc.  If children learn from an early age to understand and interpret how the media works, then they’re well on their way to being well-adjusted 21st century adults who can think for themselves.

In order to get your kids to understand the media, be sure to watch TV and surf the Internet with them. Discuss things like niche or target marketing, and explain to them that some advertisements are created for the express purpose of getting someone who is in their age group, gender, and income level to buy their product.

For girls, its especially important for them to understand that the uber-skinny bodies of models in magazines and in Hollywood movies are extremes, and many times, with the use of PhotoShop, they aren’t even real.  Don’t do all the talking, either. Ask your children questions about what they’ve watched, and get them to form their own opinions based on the tools of interpretation you’ve shown them.

News outlets, whether they’re online, televised, or in print, are something else that we should get our kids to think about carefully. Instill in them the importance of getting their news from several different sources, and inform them that many news channels make mountains out of molehills in order to attract more viewers. Explain things like shock value as well.

If you aren’t yet convinced about the importance of educating children about mass media, especially in a world in which we are always connected to, thanks to the Web 2.0, then consider this: If we don’t teach our kids how to read the media, then we will again have to contend with mass hysteria in generations to come. For more information on the media and how it effects our lives check out Mediated: How the Media Shapes Our World and How We Live in It.

Author Bio:

Nancy Farrell is a freelance writer and blogger. She regularly contributes to the criminal justice degrees, which discusses about child abuse, human rights, divorce, and crime related articles. Questions or comments can be sent to: nancy.farrell13@gmail.com.

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