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Modern Parenthood

Media literacy for preschoolers requires active parent viewing

Media literacy can be developed in preschoolers if parents actively watch media content with them and relate it to real-life experiences – and your family's values.

By Guest Blogger / November 5, 2012

Media literacy can be taught to preschoolers in simple, age-appropriate ways and connected to real world experiences – no expensive tutoring programs required.

Scott Wallace/The Christian Science Monitor


In today’s media-saturated world, raising media literate children is an increasingly important goal. Our kids need No. 1, to understand how the media work; No.2, to be able to think critically about media content; and No. 3, learn how to create their own media texts – empowering them not just to consume, but also create.

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Guest blogger

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.

Recent posts

In my previous blog explored my family’s approach to teaching our four-year-old son how the media work – particularly, how commercials work. From an early age, he learned my mantra: “Commercials try to sell us things we don’t need.” This simple concept helps him understand that commercials aren’t neutral or factual. They have an agenda: persuasion. And kids have such an innate sense of justice that the idea of being “tricked” really rankles them!

Although my son will often complain about commercials trying to sell him things he doesn’t need, some days, he has a little fun at my expense. He’ll look at me with a wicked gleam in his eye, a smile playing on his lips, and say, “Mommy. I LIKE commercials.” The little tease!

This always makes me smile, at least inwardly: If he has figured out that he can tease me about liking commercials, he has also figured out what my values are. And knowing what we value as a family is an important part of thinking critically about media content.

A couple of strategies have worked well in helping my four year old develop the ability to think critically about what he sees on screen, which is a fundamental part of being media literate. First, I make sure that we watch things together, and that while we’re viewing, we talk about what’s on screen in ways that draw upon our family’s values.

Second, I find opportunities to talk with him about his favorite shows at other times – like when we’re driving in the car, or having dinner, or chatting before bedtime – when we can have broader conversations, e.g., comparing different movies he likes.

By viewing media together, parents can help their children become media literate. This means that whenever possible, I watch programs with my son, so that I’m present to see and hear his reactions.

But viewing together is not enough; active viewing is key. This means I talk with my son about what we are seeing. I talk back to the screen, share my ideas and concerns with my son, and respond to anything he says, too.

We wind up talking about characters’ behaviors a lot. Lots of kids’ programs focus on bad behaviors. Academic studies show that even prosocial children’s media, like the kind found on PBS that are meant to teach lessons about good behavior, spend way too much time modeling bad behavior. The result: little kids often don’t pick up on the resolution or good behavior that such programs mean to encourage. The exciting and interesting bad behaviors get all the attention.


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