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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.

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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.

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Yes, we said; some people are thieves!

Then came the inevitable, perplexed question: “Why?”

Well, because sometimes, people make bad decisions.

So, between the seagulls and the iPhone theft, thieves have been an occasionally recurring topic of conversation. (Key questions he’s asked have included: “Do thieves live in houses?” and “Do thieves have teeth?”)

And guess what? After becoming enamored of the Disney films "Tangled" and "Aladdin," he realized that Flynn and Aladdin are thieves. Thieves! Uh-oh. He had a hard time making sense of this, since both are really likable characters, and he feels very keenly that stealing is wrong.

So we’ve talked a lot about why Flynn and Aladdin are thieves, and the differences between the two characters. Flynn seems to steal because he’s greedy and thinks it’s fun; in his verse of the “I’ve Got A Dream” song, he sings that his only dream is to be “surrounded by enormous piles of money.” In contrast, Aladdin is a boy without parents who steals food because otherwise, he won’t eat. And he’s not greedy, either: in an early scene in the film, he gives his stolen bread away to littler kids who are also hungry, showing that he is a kind person.

As a result of these conversations, when we’re watching "Tangled," he will sometimes offer his own running commentary. He’ll say things to me like, “Flynn shouldn’t be a thief! That’s too naughty,” or ”Poor Aladdin! He is a thief because he doesn’t have any mommy or daddy or food. He doesn’t want to be a thief.”

In my opinion, being able to identify differences between on-screen characters and their motivations is a form of age-appropriate media literacy. It’s the result of talking and thinking critically about how people are represented, and why characters are shown doing the things they do. I’m glad that my child has a basic understanding that depictions of bad behaviors don’t make those bad behaviors okay, even when the characters engaged in them are fun and exciting.

In other words, media literacy can be developed in simple, age appropriate ways, connected with real world experiences.

My hope is that these conversations are laying important groundwork for the future, making it clear that we discuss and think critically about media content in our family. Considering the content he’ll likely see later in childhood and in adolescence, I think it’s crucial to establish parent-child communication and critical thinking practices as the norm now.

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Rebecca Hains blogs at


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