Media is everywhere... it is almost the air our children breathe. Most parents assume their kids know more about media then they do. The term 'media literacy' refers to the full range of knowledge and skills children need in order to access, analyze, communicate and create within the media milieu that makes up a significant portion of their world. If our children could only read but they couldn't write or they could not understand what they read or how a story was constructed - we would not consider them literate.
Media literacy includes skills in using media, understanding how images and stories are constructed and a critical understanding of how media is controlled and which stories are told. There are plenty of good websites with a comprehensive overview of how to help our kids build these skills. I'm just going to talk about a few simple ways that parents can bring media literacy into every day conversations.
Talking with children about what they are viewing and commenting on story lines, stereotypical images and harmful messages has shown to be an effective way that parents can engage in media literacy. Even the American Psychological Association recommends that parents and other family members "help girls interpret sexualizing cultural messages in ways that mitigate or prevent harm." Your older teen might not appreciate your comment on every negative or unhealthy message in her favorite show but she might be willing to discuss the overall theme in a story line and how it makes her feel.
With younger kids, make a game out of being advertising investigators:
- Count how many ads you see in an hour of television viewing with your family, including product placements in the show itself. Discuss together how product placement and commercials might actually affect which story lines are being told.
- Notice which ads are directed at boys and which ones are directed at girls. Ask your kids how they know. What are the cues? Ask them what would happend if they were interested in the toy being advertised to the "other" gender.
- Ask your kids if the boys and girls in commercials, movies or TV shows dress and act like real kids they know.
You and your teen may want to comb through a fashion magazine and count the ads. How many pages of ads are there versus actual articles or fashion spreads? Explain that the real profit to the magazine company doesn't come from sales of magazines but of sales for advertising space. Teach her to notice how the articles often reflect the items being advertised. Play investigator again and challenge her to find the ad that "goes with" the article. Is there a diet ad that follows the article on swimsuits? What about the ad for a headache medication right after the article on managing migraines? Wonder aloud if magazines intend to make women and girls feel unattractive or not good enough the way they are. Discuss with your daughter who actually profits from girls feeling badly about themselves and always feeling driven to pursue the latest diet or beauty product.
To begin talking with girls about the unrealistic images in advertising... the Evolution video is a great place to start. Since it was first launched by the Dove Self-Esteem Fund over five years ago, most adults have seen this but we have a whole new generation of young girls who can benefit. My own daughter references this video when she wants to make a point about how fake advertising can be.
A creative guy named Jesse Rosten went viral a couple of weeks ago with his humorous look at how photo shopping is the new beauty regimen. This one is appropirate for sharing with older teens and a great jumping off point for a conversation about unrealistic beauty expectations and how advertising distorts our perceptions. Check it out here: Fotoshop by Adobe