Media literacy for preschoolers: Parenting a savvy viewer
Media literacy for preschoolers isn't given much emphasis in schools, but parents can advance a child's media literacy at home.
Media literacy is a concept that’s often taught in schools – though not often enough, in my opinion. Being media literate means having the ability to think critically about media content, as well as an understanding of how the media work. It also encompasses knowing how to create media texts yourself.Skip to next paragraph
Rebecca Hains, Ph.D. is a children's media culture expert. A professor of advertising and media studies at Salem State University, in Salem, Mass., her research focuses on girls and media. The author of "Growing Up With Girl Power: Girlhood on Screen and in Everyday Life," she blogs about children's media and popular cultur and lives with her husband and son in Peabody, Mass.
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So, students in middle school who are learning about media literacy might be asked to think about who produced a certain media text (advertisement, movie, television show, etc.) and why. They might be asked to contemplate about whether they agree with the content – with the messages and values it conveys. For example, is an ad or program portraying certain people in stereotypical ways? If so, what problems do they see with that practice? In some programs, they might even be handed a digital video recorder and taught how to edit their footage together on a laptop, to create their own advertisement about something they care about.
Although most research about media literacy focuses on children’s classroom experiences, I believe it’s never too early to begin fostering media literacy. Media literacy can happen at home. Parents can talk with their preschoolers about the media in age-appropriate ways, giving them tools to help them think critically.
Unfortunately, there’s not much research out there on parent-based media literacy – but from speaking with other parents, I know it’s happening in a lot of homes. Now, some families may not think of the conversations they have with their little ones about the media as “media literacy.” It’s not a term that everyone is familiar with, after all. But if you’re talking with your child about what is happening on screen, and why, chances are you’re helping your child become a media literate individual.
My son is four years old. A couple of years ago, we suspended our DirecTV subscription and experimented with using Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Prime, and other internet-based sources for watching television content on our TV set. The results were great: for a fraction of the cost, we were still able to access 99% of the content we enjoyed.
Because we didn’t miss “regular” television, we canceled our DirecTV subscription altogether and never looked back. (This worked well for us, but I’m sure it’s not for everyone…your mileage may vary!)